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August 8, 2002

Hernando County Jewelry Store Owner Arrested in $45,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Spring Hill jewelry store has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $45,000 in sales tax that he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Stephen Clemente, 36, of Spring Hill, was arrested late Tuesday by deputies of the Hernando County Sheriff's Department on charges relating to tax theft and failure to comply with tax law. 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. Clemente was president of Clemente Jewelry, Inc., doing business as Goldsmith Jewelers. The business is no longer in operation.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Clemente 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 Clemente failed to send in $45,401.81 in sales tax that he collected from customers during various periods between November 2000 through May 2002. Clemente also failed to file tax returns during part of this period. DOR officials tried to work with Clemente to bring the business into compliance with state law, but Clemente failed to file tax returns and turn over collected tax as the law requires, investigators alleged in court records.

"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 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 Port Richey at 727-841-4272.