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February 26, 2003

Lake City Home Dealer Arrested in Sales Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Lake City manufactured home dealership has pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to repay more than $200,000 for stealing tax money that he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Brian D. Bickel, 34, of Lake City, pleaded guilty to charges of tax theft, filing fraudulent tax returns and refusal to file tax returns on Tuesday in Columbia County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation. He also was ordered to pay $213, 158.72, including $160,230.80 for repayment of stolen sales tax, $42,152.92 in interest, and $10,773 in investigative costs. Bickel operated David's North Florida Homes at 4760 W. U.S. Highway 90 in Lake City. The business is no longer open.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Bickel routinely collected sales tax from customers at his manufactured home 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 Bickel failed to send in $160,230.80 in sales tax that he collected during various periods between August 1997 and December 2000, investigators charged. Investigators alleged that Bickel submitted four fraudulent tax returns that falsely portrayed the business as having fewer taxable sales than had actually occurred. Investigators compared the business's tax returns with manufactured home title applications filed with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to discover the fraudulent returns.

"As this case shows, the cheapest way to deal with your tax obligation is to pay what you owe, when you owe it," 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 Alachua at 386-418-4414.