FARMINGTON — The owner of a Lewiston Thai restaurant is accused of using $10,000 in sales taxes owed to Maine Revenue Services for his own benefit.

A Franklin County grand jury indicted Junlong Bunleng, 50, of Lewiston, owner of Pepper & Spice on Lisbon Street on Thursday on a felony count of theft by misapplication of sales tax from September 2003 through February 2015; four felony counts of intentional evasion of sales tax; and four misdemeanor charges of failure to truthfully collect, account for or pay sales tax.

A conviction on the theft charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Bunleng’s attorney, Leonard Sharon, said Bunleng, a native of Thailand, does not deny that he did it. However, “we feel strongly it was not intentional.”

“To convict my client of a crime, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bunleng intentionally or recklessly chose not to pay taxes,” Sharon said. “If it was merely a negligence error or a mistake, he may be liable for repayment, but he cannot be convicted of a crime.”

Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein said sales tax is required to be paid to the State Tax Assessor at certain intervals, “but according to the indictment, Mr. Bunleng intentionally or recklessly failed to do so and used the sales tax as his own funds.”

The indictment also charges Bunleng with sales tax evasion on certain dates by allegedly underreporting to the State Tax Assessor the sales generated and/or sales tax collected by Pepper & Spice, the assistant AG said.

The evasion counts each allege in excess of $2,000 of sales tax evaded, he wrote.

“I am unable to further specify the amount,” Bernstein wrote. “For the failing to collect, truthfully account, and pay over I cannot additionally comment.” He cited laws that govern pretrial and tax cases.

He said the case was heard in Franklin County, rather than in Androscoggin County, because the Franklin County grand jury operated as a regional grand jury. Franklin and Androscoggin are in the same judicial region, he said.

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