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May 4, 2005

Key West Convenience Store Owner Arrested in $50,000 Tax Fraud Case

The operator of three Key West food stores has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $50,000 in sales tax he collected from customers but lied about on tax returns submitted to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Shafiqul Islam, 38, of Key West, was arrested by investigators of the Monroe County State Attorney's office on Wednesday on felony charges relating to failure to file tax returns and pay tax. If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, as well as repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Islam also faces felony charges related to filing fraudulent tax returns. Islam operated Atlantic Grocery, 3108 Flagler Ave., Global Imports and Sales Center, 503 Greene Street, T & S Food Market at 627 Duval Street, and Olivia Street Grocery, 800 Olivia Street. All are in Key West.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Islam routinely collected tax from customers at his businesses. However, during various periods between May 2002 and November 2004, Islam failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that he had collected. Investigators demanded business records from Islam for one of his businesses, but he claimed that business records had been destroyed and were not available. In December 2003, federal Immigration and Naturalization Service agents and state Department of Business and Professional Regulation agents executed search warrants and found business records at some of Islam's business locations. Revenue investigators reviewed the business records and found that Islam was reporting and sending in only about 10 to 15 percent of the tax money that he collected. Investigators found that Abney had illegally kept $50,601.50 in stolen sales tax. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection.

"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 Key West at 305-293-1589.