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November 10, 2004

Clearwater Nightclub Owner Arrested in $238,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Clearwater nightclub has been arrested on charges that she stole almost $238,000 in sales tax that she collected from nightclub customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Stephanie Murdoch, 38, of Blue Ridge, Texas, turned herself in Tuesday to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department to face felony charges relating to failure to file tax returns and pay tax. She was released on bond. 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. Murdoch operates a nightclub named Bricktown 54, incorporated as 1560 Clearwater Inc., at 1560 McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Murdoch routinely collected tax from customers at this business. However, during various periods from early 2002 to 2004, Murdoch failed to send in to the state all of the sales taxes that the business had collected. Investigators found that Murdoch had illegally kept $237,871.29 in tax money. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection. According to investigators, Murdoch used the money to attempt to expand the business to other locations. Later, the business experienced cash-flow problems and went into bankruptcy. DOR revenue specialists attempted to help Murdoch come into compliance with state tax law, but she failed to meet her 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 Clearwater at 727-524-4369.