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April 28, 2004

. . . From Attorney General Charlie Crist and the Florida Department of Revenue

For more information, contact:
Dave Bruns
DOR: 850-487-2747
pager 850-531-3259

South Florida Auto Dealer Arrested in Major Sales Tax Theft Case

TALLAHASSEE - A businessman who operated auto sales businesses in Kissimmee and Fort Lauderdale has been arrested on charges of stealing more than $781,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never sent in to the state, Attorney General Charlie Crist and the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) announced.

Mark M. Hessein, 43, of North Miami Beach, was arrested Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Police Department on felony charges in relation to tax theft and tax fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison, fines of $15,000, and repayment of stolen tax, penalty, interest, and investigative costs. Hessein's arrest follows a joint investigation by Attorney General Crist's Office of the Statewide Prosecutor and the Department of Revenue. Hessein operated Pyramid Holdings Inc. of Kissimmee, doing business as Daewoo of Kissimmee, and Universal Fleet Lease, Inc., of Fort Lauderdale. Both businesses currently are closed.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Hessein's businesses routinely collected tax from customers at both businesses. However, a Revenue Department investigation of tax returns, business records, and banking information showed that Hessein repeatedly filed tax returns that reflected a far smaller volume of taxable transactions than were actually taking place. Hessein's Kissimmee-based business, Daewoo of Kissimmee, failed to send in $489,936.26 in tax that had been collected from customers, investigators charged. Hessein's Fort Lauderdale business, Universal Fleet Lease, failed to send in $291,910.64 in tax that had been collected from taxpayers, investigators charged. The alleged tax thefts occurred between early 1999 and 2002.

"The vast majority of businesses pay appropriate taxes," said Attorney General Crist. "This prosecution should serve as a warning to others who think they can get away with this type of fraud. We commend the Department of Revenue for pursuing this criminal activity and will prosecute to bring justice for Floridians."

Jim Zingale, executive director of DOR, said that the Hessein case is unusual, both because of the nature of the alleged crime and because of the large amount of tax involved. "The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecutor in bringing to justice those criminals who use tax fraud to steal the public's money and steal an unearned, undeserved competitive advantage over honest business people."