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November 15, 2002

Brandon Auto Repair Shop Owner Arrested in $21,000 Tax Theft Case

The owner of a Brandon auto repair shop has been arrested on charges that he stole more than $21,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers but never paid to the state, the Florida Department of Revenue announced.

Michael J. Gooding Sr., 52, of Brandon, was arrested Friday and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges relating to tax theft. 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. Gooding operated Hi-Tech Automotive, Inc., at 119 S. MontClair Avenue in Brandon. The business is no longer in operation.

According to Revenue Department investigators, Gooding routinely collected sales tax from customers at his auto repair shop. 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 Gooding failed to send in tax payments during various periods between August 2000 and April 2001. In bankruptcy papers that he filed, Gooding acknowledged that he collected sales tax from customers that he never remitted to the state. Investigators alleged that Gooding had filed tax returns - without accompanying tax payments - that understated the amount of taxable business being done at the shop.

"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 Tampa at 813-744-6506.