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October 29, 2002

Panama City Restaurant Owner Arrested in $7,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Panama City restaurant has turned herself in to face charges that she stole almost $7,000 in sales tax that she collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Marcia M. Lewis, 53, of Panama City, turned herself in to the Bay County Sheriff's Department Thursday to face charges relating to tax theft and failure to comply with tax law. If convicted, she faces up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Ms. Lewis operates Marcia's Jamaican Restaurant at 508 Harmon Avenue in Panama City.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Ms. Lewis routinely collected sales tax from customers at her business. 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 Ms. Lewis failed to send in $6,999.84 in sales tax that she collected from customers during various periods from 1999 to 2001. Ms. Lewis also failed to file tax returns during part of this period. DOR officials tried to work with Ms. Lewis to bring the business into compliance with state law, but all attempts failed. According to investigators, Ms. Lewis told DOR that she used the stolen tax money to help pay business expenses.

"To be fair, tax law must apply uniformly to all businesses," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Revenue Department. "Tax thieves steal money that the public pays to support vital services, such as law enforcement and education. Businesses that fail to comply with tax law also are stealing an unearned, undeserved competitive advantage over honest businesspeople. The Department 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.