From J's Oyster to jail, the owner of a popular Portland, Maine restaurant will soon serve a four-month sentence for stealing sales tax.
Cynthia Brown, 58, of Portland, pleaded guilty to theft and tax evasion charges. Prosecutors say she had been under-reporting sales at J's Oyster and pocketing sales tax paid by customers between 2008 and 2015.
The amount of stolen sales tax is more than $800,000. Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein said Brown also failed to pay income tax. She must pay back more than $1.3 million to the state.
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"It's a lot of money," said Bernstein. "It's important to make sure there's trust in the system, that businesses who handle tens of thousands, or millions of dollars, are responsible to truthfully account for that money."
Bernstein said Brown has been cooperative in the investigation and has paid back a significant portion of the restitution already. She is supposed to report to jail in two weeks.
Staff said Wednesday that they will keep the restaurant open while Brown serves her sentence.
J's Oyster has been a seafood staple on the Portland waterfront for 40 years. Loyal customers say the owner's crimes won't deter them from supporting the business.
"We like the food, and we like the atmosphere," said Ann McAleer. She and her husband went to J's for lunch Wednesday. Don McAleer said boycotting the business would hurt innocent employees.
"The people that work there, it's not their fault," he said. He called Brown's felony convictions "a shame."
Brown did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. She told the Portland Press Herald that she regretted the crimes, and did not take the money intentionally. She said the business slipped when she took time to care for her sick husband.