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September 17, 2002

Tallahassee Auto Body Shop Owner Arrested on Tax-violation Charge

A Tallahassee auto-body shop owner has been arrested on charges of stealing $2,700 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never sent in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced. He also was charged with failing to file tax returns as required by law.

John F. Coates, 39, of Tallahassee, was arrested Tuesday morning by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at his business. He faces tax-law violation charges relating to tax theft and failure to file tax returns. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, plus repayment of stolen tax, penalty, interest and investigative costs. Coates operates J&V Auto Body at 1143 Kissimmee Street in Tallahassee.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Coates routinely collected sales tax from customers at his auto body shop. Under state law, sales tax becomes the property of the state at the moment of collection. However, an investigation of the business's records showed that Coates failed to send in tax money that he had collected between May and December 2001. Investigators also charged that Coates failed to file sales tax returns between May 2001 and April 2002. It is a felony violation of state law to fail to file six consecutive tax returns.

"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. Tax cheats 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 Tallahassee at 850-922-2666.