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February 8, 2005

Largo Auto Sales Dealer Arrested in $53,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Largo auto sales lot has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $53,000 in sales tax he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

William C. Brunes, 39, of Clearwater, was arrested Feb. 1 on felony charges relating to failure to file tax returns and pay tax. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Brunes operates Showcase Auto Sales, Inc., 1764 N. Missouri Ave., in Largo.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Brunes routinely collected tax from customers at his business. However, during various periods between March 2001 and May 2004, Brunes failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that he had collected or failed to file tax returns as required by law. Investigators found that Brunes had illegally kept $53,633.80 in tax money and had failed twice failed to file tax returns for periods of six consecutive months. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection. DOR staff repeatedly attempted to help Brunes come into compliance with state tax law, but he failed to meet his legal obligations.

"To be fair, tax law must apply uniformly to all businesses," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Revenue Department. "Tax cheats steal money that the public pays to support vital public services, such as law enforcement and education. They also steal a competitive advantage over honest businesspeople who pay their taxes. The Department of Revenue cannot and will not allow this to occur."

If you have information about tax theft, please call the Florida Department of Revenue investigations office in Clearwater at 727-507-6305.