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    Florida C-Store Owners Sentenced

    Three years' probation and house arrest for false tax returns.

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Two former Tallahassee convenience-store owners accused of submitting false income-tax returns were sentenced Monday to three years of probation and a year of home confinement by electronic monitoring.

    According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the two could have gotten a maximum sentence of three years of jail time and a $250,000 fine per count.

    The family members of the men -- Nidal Qasem and Walid Abulaban -- wiped away tears and hugged each other after the sentences were read. U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle presided at the hearing at the federal courthouse.

    Qasem and Abulaban had pleaded guilty to charges including skimming profits from the Time Saver chain of stores and failing to report the federal income to the IRS for the years 1997-2000.

    Before the sentencing was announced, Karen Rhew, an assistant attorney of the Northern District of Florida, tried to establish that the men had tried to obstruct the IRS investigation by failing to turn over ledgers detailing the profits the men had been skimming.

    William Davis of Tallahassee, Abulaban's attorney, said that his client had been extraordinarily cooperative with the investigation by providing dozens of boxes of financial and other information to the IRS.

    The Rev. Lee Johnson, husband of former Tallahassee Mayor Dot Inman Johnson, spoke about the character of both men. He said they had owned shops in low-income neighborhoods and had made donations to the community on several occasions.

    Qasem's attorney, Mark NeJame of Orlando, asked the judge to consider the fact the men had lost their livelihood. A felony conviction meant they could no longer legally sell alcohol, which would hinder the convenience store sales, he said. So they sold or liquidated them. NeJame also said the men have five children each and were the sole source of income for them and other family members in Jordan.

    Mickle said Rhew didn't prove a sufficient argument that they tried to block the IRS investigation. Along with the probation, each man was fined $50,000. Qasem had already paid back taxes owed of $82,938; Abulaban had paid $92,184.

    After the hearing, Qasem, who was surrounded by his family, said he was satisfied with the sentencing. "I made my mistakes and I got treated fairly," he told the Democrat.

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