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Car salesman is accused of stealing $24,000 in sales tax


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000

PORT RICHEY -- A 52-year-old used car salesman and auctioneer was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents Friday and charged with stealing nearly $24,000 in sales taxes that he collected from customers.

James Tate was arrested at his home at 9631 Towanda Lane in Port Richey and charged with tax theft, a felony. He also faces misdemeanor charges of failure to file tax returns accurately, according to officials.

Tate collected $38,664 in sales tax from customers of U.S. Auto Sales, at 8230-A U.S. 19 in Port Richey, said Dave Bruns, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Revenue. Tate only sent $14,881 to the state, said Bruns, and deliberately filed tax returns that underreported the tax he collected.

Tate collected the money between February 1996 and May 1999, said Bruns.

Tate ran the used car dealership, Bruns said, but did not own it. It was Tate's job to file tax returns to the state.

It's unclear what Tate did with the money, Bruns said.

According to Department of Revenue records, U.S. Auto Sales went out of business in December. Bruns said the used car dealership was owned by Tate's "significant other," but did not disclose the owner's name. A corporation records check did not turn up such a business. If convicted, Tate faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Tate was booked into the county jail in Land O'Lakes and was held in lieu of $7,500 bail.

Cases of failure to file sales tax returns are uncommon, said Bruns. The state agency has 300-400 pending cases statewide, but there are 570,000 businesses in Florida that are required to report sales taxes.

Bruns said there is a 97 percent voluntary compliance rate of sales tax reporting.

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