Restau­ra­teur ac­cused of tax dodge

Op­er­a­tor of Louie’s charged with fail­ure to pay sales tax

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily Opilo

Long­time Al­len­town restau­ra­teur and for­mer may­oral can­di­date Louis Bel­letieri was charged Wed­nes­day with more than 30 counts of felony theft af­ter au­thor­i­ties said he failed to pay more than $89,000 in sales tax to the state.

Bel­letieri, 72, is ac­cused of un­der­pay­ing taxes to the Penn­syl­va­nia Rev­enue Depart­ment since Septem­ber 2014 for sales at Louie’s Ital­ian Restau­rant, his land­mark south Al­len­town eatery.

Ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint, Bel­letieri was col­lect­ing sales tax from bar and restau

rant cus­tomers but only re­mit­ting the bar por­tion to the state.

“The De­fen­dant would have known the sales from the bar were a frac­tion of the to­tal sales of the restau­rant and not enough to run his restau­rant,” Se­nior Deputy Tax Au­di­tor Dou­glas Cachia said in the crim­i­nal com­plaint. Cachia said Bel­letieri did not turn over records to in­ves­ti­ga­tors that are typ­i­cally kept by a restau­rant, and that he was pay­ing some bills “di­rectly from his sales tax ac­count.”

Bel­letieri re­ported much higher sales on fed­eral tax re­turns than he re­ported on state tax re­turns, the com­plaint states.

Reached Wed­nes­day, Bel­letieri ac­knowl­edged that he owed back taxes to the state but said he did not in­ten­tion­ally un­der­pay. He said the charges filed against him are the “next step” in the process.

“We’re try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate,” he said.

Asked if he was con­sid­er­ing a guilty plea, Bel­letieri re­it­er­ated that it was a ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Through his lawyer, Joseph Reib­man, Bel­letieri said the same thing to the state, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

Bel­letieri was charged by the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice with felony theft by fail­ure to make re­quired dis­po­si­tion of funds re­ceived and one mis­de­meanor count of the same charge. Bel­letieri was ar­raigned be­fore Dis­trict Judge David M. How­ells Jr. in Al­len­town and re­leased on $10,000 bail.

A pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing is sched­uled for Sept. 30.

Bel­letieri is best known in the Le­high Val­ley for his restau­rant, an Al­len­town in­sti­tu­tion that has been in busi­ness for decades. Bel­letieri’s par­ents, Gino and Sue, opened the fam­ily eatery at 12th and Chew streets in 1958. Bel­letieri took the reins in 1986 and moved the restau­rant to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion on 31st Street in 2007. He has since turned over own­er­ship to his chil­dren. In court doc­u­ments, he said he runs the restau­rant and is re­spon­si­ble for cal­cu­lat­ing the sales tax owed.

For years, Bel­letieri dab­bled in lo­cal pol­i­tics, serv­ing on the com­mis­sion that wrote Al­len­town’s char­ter and win­ning the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for Le­high County com­mis­sioner in 1999 but later with­draw­ing to fo­cus on his busi­ness. In 2005, he was the first can­di­date in the race for Al­len­town mayor, but ul­ti­mately lost a close Demo­cratic pri­mary to then-po­lit­i­cal new­comer Ed Pawlowski.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Pawlowski ac­cused Bel­letieri of not pay­ing taxes, pro­duc­ing a copy of a county tax record dur­ing a de­bate. Once he be­came mayor, Pawlowski hired Bel­letieri as a busi­ness de­vel­op­ment spe­cial­ist for the city, a po­si­tion Bel­letieri held for two years.

Dur­ing the 2005 cam­paign, a 1992 re­port sur­faced by the now-dis­banded Penn­syl­va­nia Crime Com­mis­sion, which al­leged that Bel­letieri and his late brother, Peter, de­frauded sup­pli­ers of goods and skimmed more than $500,000 from three area restau­rants they man­aged by con­tract.

No charges were ever filed. At the time, Bel­letieri called the re­port “ridicu­lous.”

In 1990, Bel­letieri was charged with of­fer­ing pay­outs to win­ners play­ing ma­chine poker at the Good Spirit, a restau­rant at Ninth and Hamil­ton streets. The charges were dropped be­fore the case went to trial.

The crim­i­nal com­plaint filed Wed­nes­day states that an au­di­tor re­viewed records dat­ing to 2011 and turned up an ap­prox­i­mately $200,000 sales tax de­fi­ciency for Louie’s. The charges only in­volve un­paid sales tax from 2014 to 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to Le­high County court records, Bel­letieri has en­coun­tered other fi­nan­cial trou­ble in re­cent years.

His home in the 1600 block of Green­leaf Street was sold at sher­iff’s sale in Septem­ber 2016 af­ter Fan­nie Mae filed a fore­clo­sure law­suit seek­ing more than $254,000.

Key­stone Nazareth Bank and Trust filed judg­ments to­tal­ing more than $289,000 against Bel­letieri in 2013 af­ter he de­faulted on two loans.

Court records also show nu­mer­ous state and fed­eral tax liens dat­ing to the 1980s.

Louie’s rents the build­ing on 31st Street. The restau­rant was open for busi­ness Wed­nes­day but signs out­side say it is is re­lo­cat­ing.

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Louis Bel­letieri, charged with 30-plus counts of felony theft, said he didn’t in­ten­tion­ally un­der­pay taxes and is “try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate.”

EMILY OPILO/THE MORN­ING CALL

Long­time Al­len­town restau­ra­teur and for­mer may­oral can­di­date Louis Bel­letieri was charged Wed­nes­day with more than 30 counts of felony theft af­ter au­thor­i­ties said he failed to pay more than $89,000 in sales tax to the state.

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