Mexico Beach Restaurant Owner Pleads Guilty

Panama City, Florida - The owner of “Toucan’s Restaurant” in Mexico Beach, Florida pled guilty to six counts of tax evasion, being a convicted felon who unlawfully possessed six firearms, and to methamphetamine possession, U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin announced Wednesday.

Paul Gregory Francis was charged by complaint in September 2008 after federal and local law enforcement executed search warrants at his home and at “Toucan’s.” He was formally charged last Tuesday.

Francis admitted that he willfully failed to file tax returns for himself and for Toucan’s Restaurant in 2005, 2006, and 2007. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to pay the Internal Revenue Service over $2,000,000 in back taxes. Francis has until July 31, 2009 to make a complete payment to the Internal Revenue Service of the taxes owed.

Francis also pled guilty to unlawfully possessing firearms. Francis was convicted in 1981 of income tax evasion in the District of Massachusetts and in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and was convicted in 1990 of drug trafficking in the Superior Court for Bristol County, Massachusetts. As a convicted felon, Francis was barred from possessing any firearm.

However, at the time law enforcement searched his home and Toucan’s, law enforcement found, and Francis admitted today that he possessed, six firearms, five of which were loaded. Many of these guns were found in secret compartments located in Francis’s home and at Toucan’s.

Finally, Francis pled guilty to possessing methamphetamine found at his home and at Toucan’s. Francis admitted that he possessed the methamphetamine to support his drug addiction and that he bought the drugs with cash he skimmed from Toucan’s.

U.S. Attorney Kirwin stated, “Payment of individual and business taxes is an obligation of citizenship. The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing the laws against those who evade payment of taxes, and to helping the IRS recover monies owed.”

Victor W. Lessoff, Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation stated “The prosecution of individuals who intentionally conceal income and evade taxes is a vital element in maintaining public confidence in our tax system. We should not expect the honest taxpayer to foot the bill for those who hide income from the IRS.

This case is an example of how the investigation into violation of tax laws often leads to the discovery of other crimes and how our agency is able to work in concert with state, local and other federal agencies to bring these individuals to justice.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak set sentencing for April 15, 2009. Francis faces a maximum of five years’ imprisonment on each of the six tax evasion counts; a maximum of ten years’ imprisonment on the gun count; and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment for his drug possession.

This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gayle Littleton.

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