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March 2, 2005

St. Petersburg Restaurant Owner Arrested in $52,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a former St. Petersburg restaurant has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $52,000 in sales tax he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Robert Gordon, 54, of St. Petersburg, was arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Wednesday on felony charges relating to failure to file tax returns and pay tax. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Gordon operated Perch Restaurant at 10 Beach Drive N.E. in St. Petersburg. The business closed in 2002.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Gordon routinely collected tax from customers at his business. However, during various periods between early 2001 and late 2002, Gordon failed to file tax returns as required by law and also failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that he had collected. Investigators found that Gordon had illegally kept $52,092.74 in tax money. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection. DOR's investigation showed that Gordon used his business's collections to pay personal expenses. DOR staff repeatedly attempted to help Gordon come into compliance with state tax law, but he failed to meet his legal obligations.

"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 Clearwater at 727-524-4369.