Former restaurant owner sentenced

Published 11:10 pm Friday, September 7, 2018

A former Suffolk restaurant owner was sentenced Friday to six months of active time in jail for failure to pay meals taxes.

Jose Moncada, who owned East Coast Taco Company on West Washington Street, received the sentence from Circuit Court Judge L. Wayne Farmer Jr.

“It seems you haven’t taken this as seriously as you need to, so I’m going to make sure that you do,” Farmer said just before pronouncing the sentence. The statement caused gasps in the gallery, even from people waiting on other cases.

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Farmer did allow Moncada to serve the sentence on weekends. With a 50-percent reduction in time available for misdemeanor charges, that means Moncada could be done with the sentence if he serves 45 weekends in a row. The judge ordered him to start Sept. 14.

Moncada was charged with eight counts of failure to pay meals taxes for August 2016 to March 2017. Each of the counts carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail. He also had a count of failure to appear on a prior court hearing related to the case, but Farmer dismissed that charge.

Suffolk restaurateurs are required to charge their customers a 6.5-percent city tax on food and drinks served in their establishments. They hold that tax until the 20th of every month, when they are required to turn over to the city the amount due from the prior month.

However, when they do not turn over the amount due, the treasurer’s office takes collection action. Criminal charges are the last resort.

Moncada has made a $1,000 payment on his account but still owes $11,454.69.

The restaurant closed in April 2017, Jose Moncada’s wife, Jackie Moncada, testified on Friday. At the time, they were behind on bills both personally and with the restaurant.

After the restaurant’s closure, they were evicted, and their car was repossessed, she said.

Jose Moncada was able to get a job at The Cavalier, a newly renovated historic hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. He was hired on the spot at a job fair prior to its reopening, he said. He’s working 50-hour weeks and looking for a second job.

“We’ve been able to almost fully catch up,” Jackie Moncada said. Even so, Jose Moncada’s parents had to help them with the $1,000 payment they made.

“It’s just hard,” he testified on Friday. “I’m trying to make sure I stay focused on work.”

Assistant Public Defender Elisabeth Culpepper, who is representing Moncada, said her client had a positive impact on the community while he owned his business. He had the passion for the culinary industry but not the business sense.

“They’re just bad at business,” she said, noting that the couple has three children they had to care for as well. “Running a business is perhaps not their wheelhouse.”

Culepper suggested a fully suspended sentence with the requirement that Moncada make progress toward paying back the full amount.

“A jail sentence in this case amounts to debtor’s prison,” she said. “Not only would he likely lose his job, he can’t pay this back if he’s stuck in Western Tidewater Regional Jail, full stop.”

Assistant City Attorney Kalli Jackson asked for jail time.

“I think jail time is appropriate in this case,” she said. “This whole system is based on honesty, self-reporting. They were not reporting and when they were, they were under-reporting. The circumstances of this case are the most egregious of any case the city’s had.”

Farmer said Moncada’s impact on the community was one of stealing money that did not belong to him.

“He stole it to keep a business running they probably should have realized within the first year, “We’re not making it,’” Farmer said.

Farmer sentenced Moncada to 12 months on each charge but suspended all but one of the sentences in full. He suspended half of the last charge, leaving six months of active time.

Moncada may wind up serving only half of that. He’ll also have to be on two years of good behavior and pay back no less than $100 of his debt per month.

Moncada had appealed the case from General District Court, where he was sentenced last December to 19 months in jail with no suspended time.