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November 15, 2002

Broward Restaurant Owner Arrested in $38,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Fort Lauderdale restaurant has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $38,000 in sales tax that he collected from customers but failed to send in to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

J. Duane Saliba, 39, of Coral Springs, was arrested Tuesday by the Broward County Sheriff's Department on felony charges relating to tax theft and tax fraud. 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. Saliba operated Raindancer of Fort Lauderdale, a restaurant.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Saliba routinely collected sales tax from customers at his restaurant. 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 Saliba collected $36,699.39 between January and June 2001 that he failed to send in to the state. Investigators also compared guest checks with the business's tax returns and found that Saliba had systematically underreported the taxable transactions that occurred at the business in early 2001, and failed to file returns for some months. Finally, after being contacted by Department of Revenue collections staffers, Saliba issued a check for payment of tax in April 2001, but the check bounced, investigators reported.

"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 Coral Springs at 954-346-2850.