Lewiston restaurant owner denies sales tax charges

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LEWISTON — The owner of a Lewiston Thai food restaurant on Wednesday denied charges of using for his own benefit money that should have been set aside to pay state sales taxes.

Junlong Bunleng, 50, of Lewiston pleaded not guilty in 8th District Court to five felonies and four misdemeanors.

Bunleng is the owner of Pepper & Spice Thai Cuisine restaurant on Lisbon Street. The restaurant was closed last month because of health violations. A Nov. 1 follow-up inspection was planned, but a “for lease” sign is in the window of the 875 Lisbon St. location. An outgoing message at the restaurant’s listed telephone number indicates the restaurant is planning to relocate to 1135 Lisbon St.

A call to the city’s sanitary officer was not returned Wednesday.

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Charges in an indictment handed up in August by a grand jury include theft by misapplication of sales tax, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Bunleng faces four counts of Class C intentional evasion of sales tax, each charge punishable by up to five years in prison. He also faces charges of failing to truthfully collect, account or pay over sales tax, a Class D misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

Prosecutors said Bunleng collected more than $10,000 in sales taxes from customers and “intentionally or recklessly” failed to pay that money to the Maine State Tax Assessor. The evasion counts each allege in excess of $2,000 of sales tax evaded.

Bunleng remains free on personal recognizance. He is due back in court in March.

His attorney, who accompanied Bunleng in court Wednesday, said Bunleng’s actions were not intentional.

Lewiston lawyer Leonard Sharon said of his client, “If it was merely a negligent error or a mistake, he may be liable for repayment, but he cannot be convicted of a crime.”

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