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June 20, 2003

Tampa Truck Repair Shop Owner Arrested in $97,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Tampa four-wheel-drive truck-repair business has been arrested on charges of refusing to pay almost $97,000 in sales tax that he collected from his customers but never sent in to the state, the state Department of Revenue announced.

James Leroy Long, 65, of Temple Terrace, was arrested Friday morning on a felony charge relating to sales tax theft by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. If convicted, Long faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, plus repayment of stolen tax, penalty and interest. Long operates Leroy's Four Wheel Drive Center at 512 E. Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Long made a practice of collecting sales tax from customers at his truck repair shop. By state law, sales tax becomes the property of the state at the moment of collection. However, during various periods from May 1999 through November 2001, Long failed to send to the state $96,793.98 in sales tax, according to a Revenue Department investigation. DOR employees had worked repeatedly with Long to collect unpaid tax, and the Department three times filed tax warrants seeking to collect unpaid tax. Revenue Department investigators found that Long had mixed business and personal funds and had taken sales tax money to pay both personal and business expenses.

"Tax thieves steal from the public in several ways," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Revenue Department. "First, they steal money that the public pays to support vital services, such as law enforcement and education. Second, they steal an unearned, undeserved competitive advantage over honest businesspeople who pay their taxes."

If you have information about tax theft, please call the Florida Department of Revenue investigations office in Tampa at Tampa at 813-744-6506.