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April 15, 2002

Tallahassee Hotel Owner Charged in Sales Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Tallahassee hotel has been arrested on charges of stealing more than $42,000 in sales taxes that were collected from customers but never sent in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Bernard W. Shiell, 76, of Tallahassee, turned himself in to the Leon County Sheriff's Department late Friday afternoon and was booked on a felony charge of tax theft. Shiell also faces misdemeanor charges of refusing to file sales tax returns as required by law. If convicted, Shiell faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, plus repayment of stolen tax, penalty and interest. Shiell is the president of Gulf Sun Lodging Corp., which does business as the Executive Suites Motor Inn at 522 Silver Slipper Lane in Tallahassee.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Shiell's business routinely collected sales tax from customers at the hotel on a routine basis. By law, sales taxes become the property of the state at the moment of collection. However, during various periods between January 2001 and September 2001, Shiell failed to send in to the state $42,398.42 in sales taxes that he had collected, investigators charged. Investigators alleged that Shiell stole the money to use it for business expenses.

"To be fair, tax law must apply uniformly to all businesses," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Revenue Department. "Businesses that steal state funds are stealing from the public. Businesses that fail to comply with tax law are stealing an unearned, undeserved competitive advantage over honest businesspeople. The Department 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 Tallahassee at 850-922-2666.