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January 23, 2002

Lake Wales Car Dealer Arrested in $207,000 Sales Tax Theft Case

The former owner of a Lake Wales auto dealership was arrested on charges of stealing more than $207,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never sent in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Leroy J. Schielka Jr., 40, of Orlando, was arrested Tuesday on a felony charge of tax theft. Schielka also faces charges of failure to file tax returns. If convicted, Schielka faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, plus repayment of stolen tax, penalty and interest. Schielka owned Towerview Motors in Lake Wales, which is no longer in business.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Schielka made a practice of collecting sales tax from customers at his auto dealership on a routine basis. However, during various periods between February 2000 and October 2000, Schielka failed to send in $207,461.80 in sales tax money that he had collected to the state, investigators charged. Investigators said that Schielka had been deliberately withholding tax money from taxable transactions that occurred at his business in an attempt to defraud the state of tax money.

"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 Orlando at 386-623-1176.