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December 12, 2002

Stuart Yacht Dealer Arrested in $361,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Stuart yacht dealership has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $361,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never paid to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Stephen F. Lazarus, 53, of Palm City, was arrested late Wednesday by the Martin County Sheriff's Department on a first-degree felony charge of tax theft. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. In total, Lazarus could face more than $1 million in fines, penalty and restitution, if convicted. Lazarus is the owner of Steve Lazarus Yacht Sales, 290 Federal Highway, Stuart.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Lazarus routinely collected sales tax from customers at his yacht dealership. 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 Lazarus was understating the amount of taxable business that occurred at the yacht dealership, sending in part of the tax money that he collected but keeping the rest to help support his business. The underreporting of sales tax covered periods from January 1998 through December 2000.

" 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. They 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 Port St. Lucie at 772-871-7620. The Department offers a reward program to persons who offer information about tax law violations. For more information, visit the Department's Internet site at www.myflorida.com/dor/