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Trial of Hooters' founder goes to jury

Jurors will determine whether he is guilty of owing millions in back taxes.

Published November 15, 2005

TAMPA - A federal prosecutor called Lynn "L.D." Stewart the "puppet master" in a scheme to defraud the U.S. government during closing arguments Monday in a tax evasion trial against the Hooters founder.

Stewart, 62, faces two counts of tax evasion and two counts of filing false tax returns.

He faces as much as five years in prison on each evasion charge and an additional three years for each false return claim - as much as 16 years total - if convicted.

Jurors began deliberating the case around lunchtime. After 41/2 hours, they sent a note to U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew asking to go home for the day. The jury will reconvene at 9:30 this morning.

Pro Football Hall of Fame member Dick Butkus sat in the courtroom next to Stewart's wife, Juanita.

The two men played football together at the University of Illinois in the mid 1960s.

Butkus called Stewart "a good friend" and said he came to Tampa to show his support.

John Fitzgibbons, Stewart's attorney, has argued that Stewart relied solely on his accountant and longtime friend Michael Maricle when it came to finances.

Maricle prepared Stewart's income tax returns, including the ones for 1997 and 1998. For those two years, according to the IRS, Stewart owes about $4-million more in income taxes than he paid.

Stewart testified for two days during the trial and said he only followed the advice of Maricle when he signed the tax returns. If anything illegal occurred, he said, he knew nothing about it.

[Last modified November 15, 2005, 03:00:33]

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