The owner of several convenience stores along the Florida Panhandle has been arrested on aggravated white-collar crime charges relating to theft of state funds, the Florida Department of Revenue announced last week.
James L. Richardson, 58, – who owns stores in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties – surrendered to authorities Tuesday at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office on felony charges relating to theft of state funds, according to a Department of Revenue news release. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines, as well as possible repayment of tax, interest and investigative costs.
Investigators say Richardson, of Destin, owned and operated several convenience stores under several names. He routinely collected tax from customers at his businesses. However, investigators say during various periods in 2004 and 2005, he failed to remit all of the sales taxes he had collected. Under state law, sales tax is the property of the state at the moment of collection.
“Individuals who collect tax but don’t send it in are stealing taxpayer dollars and gaining an unfair financial advantage over honest businesses,” said Lisa Echeverri, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue. “It’s our job to ensure that Florida’s tax laws are administered fairly.”
The list of stores owned by Richardson includes: Happy Store – 14111 Front Beach Road, Panama City; Happy Store – 1800 Thomas Drive, Panama City; Happy Store – 3534 W. Highway 98, Panama City; Happy Store – 1408 W. 23rd Street, Panama City; Happy Store – 2396 U.S. Highway 331 North, Defuniak Springs; Eight Eight Eighty-Eight, Inc. store No. 521 – 111 South Highway 29, Cantonment, FL.; Learn How To Do, Inc. store No. 517 – 8620 Pine Forest Road, Cantonment; Learn How To Do, Inc. store No. 5508 – 671 Harbor Blvd., Destin, FL
First Stop – 9905 N. Highway 231, Youngstown, FL.; Emerald Express – 757 Beal Parkway N.W., Fort Walton Beach; Emerald Express – 7822 N. Davis Highway, Pensacola.