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August 24, 2004

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

Used Car Dealer Charged with $2.34-million Tax Theft

TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell and Department of Revenue Director Jim Zingale today announced the arrest of a Miami-Dade County man for a $2.34-million tax theft in his operation of Horizon Car & Van Sales and U-Ride Motors of Florida.

Courtney Paul Longman, 45, of Sunny Isles Beach is accused of stealing a total of more than $2,340,874. An arrest warrant has also been issued for his wife, Concepcion Maria Lechado, 22, for the same crimes. The charges against the couple include collecting over $2 million in sales tax but not sending it to the state; underreporting sales income on corporate income tax returns; failure to remit monies from documentary stamps collected on the financing of used cars; and failure to report or pay unemployment compensation or payroll taxes.

"When even one taxpayer purposefully fails to report and remit taxes, every Florida citizen is a victim," said Crist. "Consumers pay taxes expecting those funds to go to their intended destination -- not into someone's pocket."

Following an investigation conducted by Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Department of Revenue, Longman was arrested by members of the Florida Highway Patrol and charged with one count of aggravated white collar crime, four counts of grand theft and three counts of money laundering. The 13 dealerships involved are located in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Plantation, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Orlando, Winter Haven, Lakeland, and Tampa.

"Hopefully, this team effort between the Attorney General's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Revenue will send a strong message to others that we are serious, and that we will not tolerate criminal activity that cheats the state out of such an important stream of revenue," said Tunnell.

"In addition to stealing the public's money, tax thieves also steal an undeserved competitive advantage over honest business people who pay their taxes," said Zingale. "Florida's businesses benefit from a level economic playing field that rewards the smartest business people rather than the slickest tax thieves. We applaud the strong action taken today by Attorney General Charlie Crist, Commissioner Tunnell, and their agencies."

The state Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also participated in the two-year investigation. In late June the state revoked Horizon and U-Ride's sales licenses pursuant to a court settlement agreement. The state also ordered the dealerships to pay a $15,000 fine and banned Longman from participating in any motor vehicle financing activities for the next five years.

The Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute the case. If convicted of the charges, Longman faces a maximum of 200 years in prison and a fine of more than $6 million.