Featured Cases

Wrongfully accused and maliciously prosecuted?

Not on our watch. Read on to learn how we fought tooth and nail for our client, a mother of five with no criminal history, who was the subject of a bogus prosecution that should make all Volusia County citizens scared to own a small business.

Ramara Garrett was a local Realtor and small business owner. Her businesses paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over the years, but after she sold her business that managed short-term rental properties in December of 2011, she assumed that any further tax liability would fall on the new business owner. Not so, said local prosecutor Phil Havens, who made it his mission to put Ramara Garrett behind bars for failure to pay just over $15,000.00 in taxes that were incurred by that business in 2012 (yes, the year after it was sold by our client!). The local State Attorney's Office charged Ms. Garrett with three third-degree felonies, carrying with them up to 15 years in prison, even though this type of failure to pay taxes is usually resolved with either a call from the Florida Department of Revenue giving the taxpayer an opportunity to come current or dispute the charges, or, if charges are filed, with a Pre-Trial Intervention agreement that results in the charges being ultimately dropped. See Daytona Beach News Journal coverage of Ms. Garrett's arrest. What a message to send to the small business owners of our community who make up the backbone of our economy!

Why did the State choose to treat our client differently? She was found not guilty in a federal case and apparently "got on the radar" of our local prosecutors. That's the only explanation we could come up with for why the State Attorney's Office would put two of their most senior prosecutors on a case involving the lowest level of felony charge - prosecutors who are normally reserved for career criminals and sex offenders.

Obviously, we weren't going to take this lying down. While sometimes heading to trial as quickly as possible is the best strategy (a strategy we love!), other times the case calls for extensive pre-trial litigation. This is where we challenge the legality of the charges brought or the evidence to be used against our clients. This is where we make technical legal arguments based on statutes and precedential case law to tie the government's hands. On this case, Aaron Delgado and Blake Taelman took the lead.

Aaron and Blake drafted the Defendant's Omnibus Motion to Dismiss, challenging the State's case at every step. We challenged the statute of limitations, the sufficiency of the charging document, the State's use of privileged evidence provided by Ms. Garrett's accountant under threat of contempt, and, crucially, the liability of Ms. Garrett to pay taxes on a business that she, undisputedly, sold prior to the dates alleged in the charging documents. That someone who sells a business should no longer be liable for taxes generated by that business seems self-evident, but, as misguided prosecutor Phil Havens said in oral argument, we had to show the State "under what legal theory [Ms. Garrett] is somehow excused from the payment of taxes as a result of the sale" of the business. See coverage of the first oral argument. This same prosecutor misstated the law so badly that we had to file a motion correcting him. Because the oral arguments ran so long, the presiding Judge, The Honorable Matthew Foxman, asked both parties to return on Halloween to finish the hearing.

On Halloween, the State called a Department of Revenue employee to attempt to bolster their case. The DOR representative stated that someone who sells a business has a duty to perform certain acts to absolve themselves of tax liability, including providing a certain certificate to the purchaser disclaiming unpaid taxes. It was extremely clear that the DOR representative had been coached by the State prior to the hearing. Luckily, we had done our research on all aspects of successor liability (the theory that the purchaser of the business actually has liability for unpaid taxes), and were ready to set the DOR agent straight. Blake cross-examined the DOR agent who had to admit that the certificate was optional, and that without such a certificate it was actually the purchaser who assumed tax liability from the purchase of the business. This was devastating to the State's case, cutting the legs out from under their argument.

We then called a respected expert to the stand to testify as to successor liability and the client/accountant privilege as it is recognized in the State of Florida, who testified confidently that under certain circumstances the purchaser of a business assumes tax liability. After this witness testified, the Judge indicated that he was ready to make his ruling. He agreed with our successor liability argument, finding that Ms. Garrett was absolved from the liability to pay taxes on a business she no longer owned. The charges against our client were dismissed entirely, and she walked out of that courtroom free to live her life. See coverage from the News Journal .

This result was particularly satisfying, and it was a big black eye for the State. We put in hundreds of hours; research, prep, oral argument, strategy sessions until midnight multiple times, etc. We let the State know that if they planned to bully an innocent small business owner around, they better pick one whom we don't represent. If you are accused of tax fraud, theft of state funds, failure to file tax returns, or any other "white collar" offense, call Damore, Delgado & Romanik right away.

For more featured cases see Our Archive.