Mike Agnello, a downtown bar owner, civic activist and onetime City Commission candidate, added another line to his resume Tuesday: a criminal arrest.
Agnello, who owns the Osceola Tavern on Seventh Street, faces a charge of theft of state funds. Authorities say that for several months last year, he collected sales tax revenue at his bar but never sent it to the state. According to an affidavit, he owes almost $58,000 in back sales taxes, plus penalties and interest.
Agnello acknowledged as much in an interview Wednesday.
He said he fell behind on paying sales taxes because he needed the money to keep the bar running. The Department of Revenue launched an investigation, he cooperated and provided his financial records, and eventually the two sides worked out a payment plan, Agnello said.
But he fell behind on that, too.
"I was not able to make the payments that I promised, and I fully admit that," he said.
Agnello, 46, has long been a fixture at City Commission meetings and is known for his strong opinions on local issues. He's president of the local Kiwanis club and a member of two city citizen boards.
Last year, he jumped into politics with a run for City Commission but lost to veteran Scott Black.
His tavern, which boasts "hospitality since 1897" on its sign out front, serves beer and wine and brings in live bands on the weekends. Agnello, a blues musician himself, sometimes performs with the acts he books.
But business has been shaky, he said. Rising taxes - sales, property and otherwise - and insurance premiums have squeezed him, he said.
In addition to the sales tax troubles, county property records show Agnello is also two years and almost $10,000 in the red for property taxes on the bar at 13941 Seventh St.
He, his wife and three sons live above the bar, on the second and third floors.
He said he was close to finalizing a mortgage refinancing loan that would have paid the sales taxes in a lump sum when he learned there was a warrant for his arrest.
He turned himself in Tuesday afternoon at a bail bond office across from the county jail in Land O'Lakes, records show. He sat in jail for several hours before posting $5,000 bail.
Agnello was arrested once before, in 2000, accused of stealing about $300 from a man staying in the rooming house he used to run above the bar. He said he was holding the money for the man, who was mentally ill and addicted to drugs.
The charges were dropped.
Agnello has said he plans to run for a commission seat again in 2008. On Wednesday, a sign hung in the window of the tavern: "Elect Mike Agnello, City Commission."
Now he said he's re-evaluating.
"I'm hoping when this is all resolved, people will see a person that doesn't give in," he said.
"I don't feel like I've done anything wrong except be a small-business man in difficult financial times."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.