Deon Dove, owner of Dove's Happy Service Markets with headquarters in Springville, doesn't have a lot to smile about this week.
Dove, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February, now faces a 56-count criminal indictment alleging he owes the state more than $5 million in taxes unpaid between 1983 and 1988.The Utah County attorney's office has charged Dove with 16 counts of failure to pay sales tax, 15 counts of misuse of public money, 13 counts of filing fraudulent tax returns, seven counts of tax evasion, two counts of communications fraud and one count each of theft by deception, forgery and racketeering.
Most of the counts are second- and third-degree felonies. Third-degree felonies are punishable by fines up to $5,000 and prison terms up to five years, while second-degree felonies can mean fines of $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.
"This is the largest case done in our office from a financial standpoint," said Utah County Attorney Steve Killpack.
He said the alleged criminal conduct is not a result of a slow economy or poor business choices. Rather, the charges allege "a classical case of criminal conduct and a preconceived criminal scheme. It was planned and executed."
The charges, filed in Provo's 4th Circuit Court, follow a four-month investigation involving the county attorney's office, State Tax Commission and state attorney general's office in Salt Lake City. The investigation centered on determining whether $5 million in sales tax owed by the bankrupt store chain was the result of criminal conduct.
Dove, who apparently has left the state, was unavailable for comment. Killpack said a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
"His whereabouts are unknown," Killpack said after his office contacted the firm of Howard, Lewis & Peterson, which was representing Dove. "They said they no longer represent him."
Dove's Happy Service Markets, a chain of 10 Utah grocery stores, has accrued more than $20 million in debt the past several years. Dove filed for Chapter 11 reorganization two years ago, but continued running seven stores in an effort to make enough money to pay off creditors.
The chain was losing so much money, however, that its remaining assets were being depleted. In January, Dove filed Chapter 7, which is a liquidation procedure in which assets are sold to pay off creditors.
The State Tax Commission has staked a claim for $7 million - the unpaid $5 million in back taxes and $2 million more in penalties and interest. Dove also allegedly owes the federal government $70,000 in back taxes.
According to a court-appointed trustee for Dove's estate, Dove's total debt is about $22 million. Two years ago, Dove listed his assets at $20 million. Most of that amount, however, is being claimed by secured creditors, leaving little for the State Tax Commission.
"The likelihood of recovering any money is minimal at best," Killpack said.
He said his office's economic crime unit, formed two years ago, has been busy working on several similar cases.