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Man pleads guilty to tax evasion

A local car salesman will pay a handsome sum to the state after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges.

Wilson Auto Sales owner Donny Wilson pleaded guilty to felony criminal tax evasion in Lincoln County Circuit Court recently after failing to report hundreds of car sales and keeping the cash owed to the State of Mississippi. Prosecutors are recommending a five-year sentence with one to serve and more than a half-million dollars in fines and restitutions, with sentencing set for Aug. 20.

“He basically embezzled the funds,” said Lincoln County District Attorney Dee Bates. “No one likes paying taxes, but taxes are what makes society whole.”

Bates’ office is asking Circuit Judge Michael Taylor to sentence Wilson to five years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, with four suspended and one to serve, as well as post-release supervision. The state is also asking that Wilson repay more than $495,000 to the Mississippi Department of Revenue, a $45,000 fine, $10,000 to the revenue department for investigative fees, around $4,000 in court costs and $2,000 to a customer and witness.

Bates said the revenue department’s investigation found Wilson withheld sales tax owed to the state on the sale of 314 vehicles. He said the department discovered the missing payments by checking the list of car titles transferred out of Wilson Auto Sales’ name against the dealership’s own sales records.

Wilson apparently was leaving those sales incomplete in his dealership’s inventory management software to hide them, Bates said.

“The investigators subpoenaed the finance companies’ records to prove the sales went through,” he said. “He collected the sales tax from the purchaser, but he did not pay it to the State of Mississippi. The people buying the cars weren’t out any money, and they did nothing wrong.”

The timing of Wilson’s guilty plea was odd. Jury selection had just wrapped up and the trial was about to begin when he threw in the towel.

Bates said his office was seeking to enter into evidence several previous verdicts against Wilson for similar crimes — Wilson pleaded guilty to four counts of tax evasion in 2009 and had to pay almost $360,000 to the revenue department, and he pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property in 2016 after several vehicles at the dealership were found to have been stolen.

“He was claiming it was an accident, that he didn’t realize he wasn’t paying it, but the previous case would have proved it really wasn’t an accident,” Bates said. “The potential of the judge admitting those cases into evidence really had an effect on (Wilson) pleading. He did not want the jury to know those things. He wasn’t going to testify because of those things.”

Wilson pleaded guilty before a ruling was made on the evidence, Bates said.

Greg Malta, Wilson’s defense attorney, said his client pleaded guilty because he agreed with the state’s plan for payment of the taxes, adding Wilson was satisfied with the trial’s outcome.

“He didn’t — in his judgment or our judgment — commit a crime,” Malta said. “But he did owe some back sales taxes that were going to have to be paid back. He was already negotiating with the department (of revenue) to arrive at a fair settlement, and now he’s done that through this restitution agreement.”

Malta said he anticipates Wilson will avoid the one-year prison sentence due to time already served. State law requires non-violent offenders serve a minimum of 25 percent of their sentence, and Wilson has already spent 97 days inside, he said.

Donny Wilson