Louie's Restaurant owner charged with theft

 

State investigators allege that the proprietor of a long-time Lehigh Valley restaurant failed to pay nearly $90,000 in state sales taxes for more than two years.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office on Wednesday charged Louis Belletieri with 31 felony counts of theft for allegedly failing to pay, in full, monthly sales taxes generated from Louie's Restaurant. Authorities also charged Belletieri with a single misdemeanor count of theft.

District Judge David Howells arraigned the 72-year-old, releasing him on $10,000 unsecured bail ahead of a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 30.

Belletieri's attorney, Joseph Reibman, declined to comment on the allegations.

"There is a process here, so I have no comment at this time," Reibman said.

An audit conducted by the state revenue department showed Belletieri should have remitted $110,014 in sales tax between September 2014 and April 2017, according to court records. But the audit revealed he submitted only $20,673, according to investigators.

Investigators allege that he only remitted sales tax from the bar sales and not the total sales from the restaurant.

A state auditor found that the sales taxes reported on federal tax returns under the restaurant's corporate name were much higher than those reported on the state tax returns, according to the criminal complaint.

During an August 2018 interview with agents from the attorney general's office, Belletieri said the restaurant's first point-of-sale system would give him the total monthly sales, which he would then use to calculate the sales tax owed to the state, according to the complaint.

He told investigators that he'd tell his daughter, who is a part owner in the restaurant, how much sales tax is owed, which she then paid.

The criminal complaint lists how much sales tax the state determined Belletieri should have paid each month for the 32 months covered by the audit. The audited monthly sales taxes reportedly owed ranged from $2,900 to $4,296, according to the complaint.

But investigators allege Belletieri paid no more than $881 in sales tax except in the final month covered by the audit in which he paid $2,198 of the $3,310 the state maintains was due.

Investigators interviewed Christine Bender, Belletieri's daughter, who acknowledged her responsibility to submit sales tax payments to the state each month through the state's online filing system. She told investigators that she paid the taxes based on the figures Belletieri provided and believed they were "true and correct."

Belletieri and Reibman disagreed with the findings of the state's original audit and filed an appeal, which was unsuccessful, according to court records. Investigators said Belletieri never disputed that the restaurant owed state sales tax but claimed that he didn't purposely underpay the state. Rather, he paid what he thought was due.

"It is his (Belletieri's) understanding that the sales tax collected is to be paid to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," according to the complaint. "In his mind, the sales tax owed was paid."

During her interview with investigators, Bender said the restaurant used three different point-of-sale systems. The first one "would crash all the time," and the second one depended on the internet Cloud, which wouldn't work if they didn't have internet service, according to the complaint. The restaurant used the first two systems during the audit period that turned up the shortfall of sales tax.

It was during a Sept. 11 interview with investigators that Belletieri maintained that he paid the taxes he thought were owed the state. But an auditor told investigators two days later that records he'd expect to find in a restaurant were not turned over to him, and that Belletieri was allegedly paying some bills directly from his sales tax account.

"The defendant would have known the sales from the bar were a fraction of the total sales of the restaurant and not enough to run his restaurant," according to the criminal complaint.

The restaurant was originally located at 1207 Chew St. in Allentown and owned by Belletieri's father before Belletieri took over and moved the restaurant to its current location on 31st Street SW in Salisbury Township in 2007.