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August 20, 2004

Islamorada Restaurant Dealer Arrested in $100,000 Tax Theft Case

The operator of an Islamorada restaurant faces charges of stealing more than $100,000 in sales taxes that she collected from customers and failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced Friday.

Patricia V. Gehrkens, 64, of Islamorada, turned herself in on Thursday to face felony charges relating to tax theft and failure to file tax returns as required by law. If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of stolen tax, interest, penalty and investigative costs. Ms. Gehrkens operates Papa Joes Restaurant at MM 79.9, Islamorada.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Ms. Gehrkens had set up a corporation, Papa Joes Landmark Restaurant Inc., in September 2002 to take over operation of the restaurant. Business records indicated that Gehrkens routinely collected sales tax on meals sold in her restaurant. However, Revenue investigators found that Gehrkens had failed to file sales tax returns or send in $100,600.24 the tax that she had collected during a period from January to November 2003. Revenue agents repeatedly advised Gehrkens that she was required to file tax returns and send in the tax that she had collected from customers, but she failed to comply with the law, investigators charged. A search of business and bank records, as well as testimony showed that Gehrkens routinely took money from the business to use for personal expenses, investigators said.

"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 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 Key West at 305-293-1589.