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Man accused of keeping sales tax money

The Spring Hill man is charged with stealing $22,200. The state Department of Revenue says he has filed false tax returns since 1997.

A Spring Hill businessman who has a history of run-ins with the law now faces a charge of tax theft after authorities said he failed to pay $22,200 in sales taxes he collected from customers.

In some cases, William T. Charnock III under-reported the amount of sales tax he collected from the three restaurants and apartment complex he owns, said Dave Burns, spokesman for the Florida Department of Revenue. In other cases, he is accused of simply reporting that he had collected no tax and keeping the money.

"You look at the cash register tapes and then at the tax returns, and when the two don't match, obviously you know there's a little problem," Burns said.

Agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Charnock, of 10154 Dunkirk Road in Spring Hill, on Tuesday and took him to the Hernando County Jail. He was released after posting $5,000 bail.

All of Charnock's businesses _ including the apartment complex Linden Commons, the Barrington Restaurant, the Copper Penny Pub, all in Spring Hill, and Club Chicago in Tarpon Springs _ are closed. Charnock, 35, a former lawyer who was disbarred in 1998 for mishandling a client's money, closed them voluntarily during the past six months, Burns said.

He had been filing false tax returns since early 1997, Burns added.

Although Burns would not discuss in detail how officials knew to investigate Charnock's finances, he said the department regularly receives tips, looks at audits and keeps an eye out for any business that starts reporting an unusually low amount of collected sales tax. Of 570,000 registered businesses in Florida, he said about 400 are investigated for tax theft annually.

"It's only one-tenth of 1 percent of them," Burns said. "So it's pretty unusual."

Despite this, Charnock is no a stranger to being on the department's hit list _ or to being in trouble with the law.

In addition to being disbarred in 1998, Charnock was charged that same year in connection with illegal sale of alcohol at his bar, the Barrington, which had lost its liquor license a few months before.

There were two cases that resulted in revocation of the Barrington's liquor license. The first was failure to provide documentation that 51 percent of its gross receipts were coming from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages, as the license requires. For that, he was fined $1,000.

The second case involved failure to pay $4,136 worth of the state per-ounce surcharge on liquor and beer sold. State authorities said Charnock had not filed a surcharge report since December 1997.

When Charnock was arrested on the charge of illegally selling alcohol _ to which he pleaded no contest and received a $237 fine _ he ended up getting hit with another charge: bringing cocaine into the Hernando County Jail. Two small plastic bags were found in the front breast pocket of his shirt, according to records. For that, he received five years of drug offender probation.