Juneau restaurant owner gets criminal tax cases dismissed

Haydar Suyun, owner of Sprazzo and Zephyr restaurants, right, talks with his lawyer, James Barrett, at Dimond Courthouse on Tuesday after prosecutors dismissed charges against him for failing to pay city sales taxes. Suyun said he has paid all the taxes back to the city.

City prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed two criminal cases against a local business owner who failed to pay approximately $13,700 in city sales taxes, citing the fact that the defendant has paid back the amount in full.

Assistant City Attorney Christopher Orman said the city does not always grant such leniency, but there were considerations that warranted the dismissal in the case against Haydar Suyun, the 52-year-old owner of two restaurants in downtown Juneau.

Suyun owns Sprazzo, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria on North Franklin Street, and Zephyr, a Mediterranean restaurant on Seward Street. He was originally charged in April with a misdemeanor for failing to remit about $5,000 in sales taxes for Sprazzo and three more misdemeanors for failing to remit about $8,700 for Zephyr.

Orman, who prosecuted the case, said many tax cases come through the city’s law department office and each one is evaluated individually. In Suyun’s case, prosecutors took note of the fact that Suyun did not owe half as much as some of the other delinquent filers. Some business owners right now owe around $30,000 to $40,000; the record-holder for the most owed is Larry Lee Lynd, of Woolly Mammoth Gifts and Sourdough Larry’s (both shops have since closed), who owes nearly $192,000.

Suyun also paid back the amount within days of the criminal charges being filed, well in advance of any potential trial, Orman said. Orman also noted this was Suyun’s first time getting into such trouble with the law department and sales tax office.

“For the most part, this was somebody who hadn’t really had much history with us, and he didn’t owe to the level of some of these other cases,” Orman said in an interview. “And then he paid it all off.”

Before granting the dismissal, Orman required Suyun to donate $1,000 to a local charity of his choice as a way to deter Suyun from pocketing sales tax money in the future. It’s not known publicly which charity Suyun chose, but Orman said the money has already been donated.

The prosecutor said sometimes forcing someone to go through the criminal process, as Suyun was, can be just as much a deterrent as actually obtaining a criminal conviction at trial. In this case, it seemed as if Suyun has “learned from the process,” Orman said.

“In both of the matters, he had kind of made good, if you will, with our tax office,” he added.

The city’s civil suits against Suyun, which were brought for the same reasons, have also been resolved, Orman said.

Suyun won’t receive the same favorable treatment if it happens again, Orman warned.

“If he were to come back, it would not be the same, and I’m sure his attorney knows it,” he said.

Suyun’s attorney James Barrett declined to comment about the case — except to say it has been “amicably resolved” — after a brief hearing in Juneau District Court on Wednesday, wherein the attorneys informed Judge Thomas Nave about the dismissal.

Suyun also did not want to talk about the case except to emphasize the fact that he has repaid what he owed. He mentioned the restaurants will be back up and running soon.

“We are working on menus for both restaurants, too,” he said as he left the courthouse.

Collecting city sales tax in Juneau is a voter-initiated system. Merchants collect the tax from purchases on behalf of the city and hold that money in trust until it is submitted to the city on a quarterly basis.

City sales tax and property tax are the two primary revenue sources for the city, and more than 80 percent of the city’s general government revenues comes from those two programs. Each bring in about $40 million a year.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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