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June 17, 2009

Lee County Used Car Dealer Arrested in Tax Theft Case

The owner of a closed Lee County used car dealership has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $89,000 in sales tax he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Bruce Alan Whitaker, 42, of Cape Coral, was arrested by the Lee County Sheriff’s Department on June 14, 2009 on a felony charge related to theft of state funds. 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. Mr. Whitaker operated Hometown Auto Sales, Inc., 2726 Fowler Street, Ft. Myers.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Mr. Whitaker routinely collected tax from customers at his business. However, during various periods beginning in June of 2004 through March of 2006, he failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that he had collected. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection.

"Most Florida businesses do an excellent job of meeting the state's requirements for collecting and submitting sales tax, which pays for services Floridians need," said Lisa Echeverri, Executive Director, Florida Department of Revenue. "Individuals who collect tax but don't send it in are stealing taxpayer dollars and gaining an unfair financial advantage over honest businesses. It's our job to ensure that Florida's tax laws are administered fairly."

If you have information about tax crimes, please call the Florida Department of Revenue investigations office in Ft. Myers at 239-338-2426.