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Black Angus owner jailed over sales tax bill of $1.14-million

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The owner of the Black Angus Stockyard restaurant was arrested Monday and accused of owing $1.14-million in back sales taxes, penalties, interest and investigative costs.

Peter A. Christopoulos, 43, was taken Monday to the Pinellas County Jail. Bail was set at $200,000.

The restaurant in the ICOT Center is closed. Federal court records indicate it went bankrupt in early March.

Christopoulos was charged with one count of racketeering, which is a first-degree felony, three counts of second-degree felony theft and 34 counts of third-degree felony theft.

Conviction of a first-degree felony could mean up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Each count of the second-degree felony charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Christopoulos listed his address as 7925 Third Ave. S in St. Petersburg.

The state Department of Revenue obtained search warrants in July and confiscated records and computers from the restaurant's offices. The Revenue Department claims diners at Black Angus restaurants in Largo, South Pasadena and Tampa paid a total of $425,000 in sales tax from May 1993 through June 1996 that Christopoulos did not forward to the state.

The Tampa restaurant also is closed. The restaurant in South Pasadena remains open.

Christopoulos is accused of mingling tax money with general business funds and either diverting or directing the diversion of funds to pay business and personal expenses.

Some months he filed tax returns that underreported the tax collected from customers, and other months he didn't file any returns, the Revenue Department says.

"We are not going to tolerate tax cheats who steal public money for private gain," said Larry Fuchs, executive director of the Revenue Department.

The tax investigation and bankruptcy proceedings aren't the only problems facing Christopoulos.

Still pending against the South Pasadena restaurant is a lawsuit in federal court claiming the business told customers it was serving Certified Angus Beef when it was not.

Similar claims against the Largo location have been put on hold, pending efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement, according to Richard T. Rossier, an attorney for the American Angus Association in Washington.

State restaurant regulators fined the Largo restaurant $300 in January for promising customers a better grade of beef than they got.

The Largo restaurant, at 13707 N 58th St., was fined more than any other restaurant in Tampa Bay for health and safety violations for two years in a row: $2,600 in 1995 and $2,600 in 1996.