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March 08, 2005

Florida Yacht Dealer Arrested in $93,000 Tax Theft Case

TALLAHASSEE -- The owner of a yacht dealership with offices in Stuart, Coconut Grove, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $93,000 in sales tax he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Jerold B. Clawson, 54, of Cape Coral, Florida, was booked Tuesday by the Martin County Sheriff's Department and faces 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. Clawson operated Southeast Marine Group, Inc., doing business as Paradigm Yacht Sales & Brokerage. Paradigm Yacht Sales operated locations in Stuart, Coconut Grove, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral. The business is no longer in operation.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Clawson routinely required employees at the business to collect tax from customers. However, during various periods between August 2002 and January 2003, Clawson failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that he had collected. Investigators found that Clawson had illegally kept $93,805.35 in tax money. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection. DOR staff repeatedly contacted Clawson to help him 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 West Palm Beach at 561-640-2874.