BK owner tossed in jail

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FRANKLIN – The owner of several shuttered Burger King restaurants in Hampton Roads, including two in Suffolk, was arrested over the weekend and faces 11 felony counts of failure to pay Franklin’s meals tax.

Samina Azhar, 54, was taken into custody at her Smithfield home, according to Capt. A. Howell of the Smithfield Police Department. She was released on a $7,500 bond.

Each of the 11 felony counts represents one month in which the city of Franklin did not receive a meals tax payment. According to warrants issued by the city, the taxes went unpaid in September, October and November of 2007, and for the first eight months of 2008.

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The total amount of tax revenue due Franklin is $64,521.28.

“A meal tax is considered a trust tax in Virginia, so the failure to pay that tax once it’s been collected from the customer is considered an embezzlement,” said Franklin City Attorney Taylor Williams.

“A restaurant is supposed to collect the tax and hold it, then when it files the meal tax return, it pays the tax at that time. Failure to pay a meal tax when it’s due is felony embezzlement if it is more than $200.”

Franklin requires restaurants in the city to collect a 6.5-percent tax on meals served. The businesses are expected to file tax returns to the Commissioner of the Revenue by the 20th of each month, and to pay the taxes to the treasurer by the same date.

“When they closed up (the Franklin franchise) and we weren’t getting any further response, I went ahead and swore out criminal complaints,” Williams said.

When the city of Suffolk received a worthless check in September for partial payment of the $20,000 it was owed in back taxes, Treasurer Ron Williams showed up at the two Suffolk stores with deputies.

They seized the contents of cash registers and safes at both restaurants to address the outstanding debt.

“We had to take collective action … to bring them into compliance,” he said at the time.

Azhar has also been charged with one misdemeanor count of operating a business without a license.

“You cannot acquire a business license if you have other taxes due to the city,” Williams said. “(Azhar) made an application for a business license and paid money that would have been owed for the business license, but it wasn’t applied to the business license; it was applied to taxes that she owed.”

Azhar is scheduled for her first court appearance at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 in Franklin General District Court.

Howell said Azhar was also served with two warrants from Chesapeake. Several calls to the clerk’s office in Chesapeake seeking details about that city’s warrants were not returned on Tuesday.

Azhar Holdings, LLC operated six Burger King franchises, one each in Franklin, Windsor, Chesapeake and Smithfield and two in Suffolk. All of the restaurants closed Oct. 24.

Azhar has been unavailable to the press and has refused to return phone calls since the restaurants’ troubles became public.