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June 20, 2002

Tallahassee Businessman Arrested in $19,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of the Tallahassee Spy Shop, a business specializing in surveillance and novelty equipment, has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $19,000 in sales tax that he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Robert A. Lee, 38, of Tallahassee, was arrested Thursday by agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on felony charges of tax theft and refusal to file tax returns as required by law. If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Lee operates Splat!, Inc., doing business as the Spy Shop of Tallahassee at 2418 N. Monroe Street.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Lee routinely collected sales tax from customers at his 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 Lee collected $19,033.08 during various periods between January 1999 and February 2002. Investigators charged that Lee also failed to file tax returns during three six-month periods between May 2000 and January 2002. Investigators alleged that Lee used the stolen tax money to pay personal and business expenses.

"To be fair, tax law must apply uniformly to all businesses," 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 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 Tallahassee at 850-922-2666.