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Jurors find former Cast-Crete president Stanton guilty in tax case

TAMPA — John D. Stanton III's attorney told jurors his tax case was about the envy of enemies upset at his enormous success as president of Cast-Crete Inc.

A jury instead sided with prosecutors who said the case was about something else: greed.

Jurors deliberated four hours Monday before returning a guilty verdict against Stanton on eight charges that he failed to file corporate and personal income taxes in the last decade and obstructed the IRS even as the Seffner building-supply company earned record profits.

Stanton, 64, stared straight ahead, showing no emotion as a clerk read the verdict. In court behind him, his pregnant girlfriend quietly sobbed, covering her mouth with a hand in shock.

Stanton, jailed as a flight risk since his September arrest, turned in his chair and told supporters, "Stay positive."

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington scheduled Stanton's sentencing for March 7 and could impose a prison term of up to 10 years. Stanton's son said the family expects an appeal of the verdict.

"He's a good person," said the son, John D. Stanton IV. "And I love him."

Shea Hughes, whose father, Ralph Hughes, was chairman of the board at Cast-Crete until his death in 2008, said he was saddened by the ruin of Stanton, a man he once respected.

"I think it's a shame that so many people got hurt," said Hughes, who had not worked for Cast-Crete before his father's death but now serves as its president. "I think justice was done."

Hughes, 51, said he will never understand why Stanton decided to ignore the taxes and take the path he did. "I don't think John understands either," he said.

The elder Hughes was a power in Hillsborough County politics, using his money and influence to back candidates who supported small government and low taxes.

Cast-Crete is now on the rebound, though its current revenues of $24 million are a far cry from its peak of $150 million a few years ago. It employs 135 people, down from 450.

This year, the company expects to earn a profit of $2.5 million. But the IRS will get every penny of profit this year and for years to come, Hughes said, until it recovers $140 million owed in back taxes, interest and penalties.

Prosecutors said Stanton drained the company of at least $43 million, directing cash to himself or shell companies he controlled. With payments to Ralph Hughes, prosecutors said, Cast-Crete was nearly bankrupt, with nothing left to pay the IRS.

But rather than shutter the company, force layoffs and auction assets, the IRS allowed a new management team headed by Shea Hughes to bring Cast-Crete back from the brink.

"This is a case about greed," prosecutor Matthew Mueller said in his closing argument. Mueller, who tried the case with lead prosecutor Robert Monk, told jurors that Stanton failed in the "simplest, most basic obligation of our nation's tax laws."

Stanton's attorney, Paul DeCailly, told jurors his client rightfully earned the money he took out of Cast-Crete as a part-owner. He scoffed at prosecutors' mention of luxury cars and homes Stanton purchased.

"So what?" DeCailly said. "It's not illegal to own a new car. It's not illegal to own an old and beat-up car. … He earned the cash. It was his cash."

He then added, "There is no evidence of greed in this case."

DeCailly sought to shift the blame for the unfiled taxes to Ralph Hughes, who also took millions of dollars from Cast-Crete as majority owner, and the obstruction of the IRS to the company's financial controller, who admitted embezzling funds from Cast-Crete.

Stanton testified the situation at Cast-Crete was so confused, including incomplete plans of a merger with other companies, he decided it was better to file taxes late than to file inaccurately.

As jurors left the courthouse in downtown Tampa, it's unlikely any would have taken time to admire the large, concrete panels adorning the building's face.

Cast-Crete made them.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

Jurors find former Cast-Crete president Stanton guilty in tax case 12/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 12:08am]
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