Former owner of Lewiston’s Pepper & Spice restaurant admits tax evasion

LEWISTON – Prosecutors said the former owner of a local Thai restaurant under-reported a dozen-year income, which amounted to $ 2.5 million.

Junlong Bunleng, 51, of 86 Summit Ave. pleaded guilty on Wednesday to nine counts in 8th District Court, including theft through sales tax misapplication, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He also admitted four counts of tax evasion, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and four counts of failure to collect and truthfully pay sales tax, a class D offense.

Deputy Attorney General Gregg Bernstein told Judge Geoffrey Rushlau that when Bunleng owned and operated Pepper & Spice Thai Cuisine restaurant on Lisbon Street between 2003 and 2015, he was responsible for filing monthly sales tax returns. The restaurant closed last fall due to health concerns.

Bunleng “grossly underreported sales” of around $ 2.5 million for more than a decade, Bernstein said. Credit card receipts paid by customers during this period exceeded what Bunleng reported, Bernstein said, not to mention cash sales that went unreported.

Bank statements reflected that the restaurant’s income was higher than that reported by Bunleng, Bernstein said.

Bunleng repeatedly filed late statements and was repeatedly told that he needed to straighten his books.

He was cooperative during a civilian audit and admitted to an investigator that he used the proceeds to pay the restaurant’s bills.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2019, when he is expected to be sentenced to four years in prison, with all that time suspended, except for four months, plus three years of probation. Compensation is expected to be substantial, around $ 200,000, prosecutors said.

Bunleng remains free on his own commitment.

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Freeda S. Scott

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