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August 1, 2003

Pinellas County Auto Repair Owner Arrested in $17,000 Sales Tax Theft

The owner and operator of a Clearwater auto repair shop has been arrested on charges of stealing more than $17,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never paid to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Jeffrey Wessendorf, 37, of Clearwater, was arrested Friday by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department on a felony charge related to theft of state funds. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Wessendorf is the owner and operator of Wessendorf, Inc., d/b/a/ Brooklyn Automotive Repair doing business at 2048 Range Road in Clearwater.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Wessendorf's company, Wessendorf, Inc., d/b/a/ Brooklyn Automotive Repair, routinely collected tax from customers who did business at the shop. By state law, sales tax becomes the property of the state at the moment of collection. However, Wessendorf did not send in sales tax totaling $17,465.54 from the period of March 1999 through August 2002, investigators alleged.

"To be fair, tax law must apply fairly and uniformly to all businesses," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Revenue Department. "Businesses that fail to comply with tax law are stealing money that the public pays to support vital services such as education and law enforcement. They also are stealing an unearned, undeserved competitive advantage over honest business people. 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 Tampa at 813-744-6506.