J's Oyster, a waterfront landmark in Portland. Credit: Jake Bleiberg

The owner of a Portland oyster bar once lauded by the likes of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, among others, will spend four months in jail, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced late Tuesday afternoon.

Cynthia Brown, 58, pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion and was sentenced on Monday by Superior Court Justice Lance Walker to four years in prison, with all but four months suspended, and three years of probation, according to an announcement from Mills’ office.

Brown owns J’s Oyster, a waterfront landmark in Maine’s largest city. The case against Brown was part of a state crackdown on restaurateurs over tax payment discrepancies in recent years, after major credit card companies began independently reporting sales to the government.

According to the attorney general’s office, Brown charged customers sales tax from March 2008 through March 2015, but did not turn that tax money over to the state, instead keeping the funds for personal and business use. The restaurateur also underreported sales numbers during that time and failed to pay personal and corporate income taxes, the attorney general’s office claimed.

Since early 2017, Brown has paid back more than $829,000 in restitution, and still owes more than $473,000 to cover her unpaid taxes, Mills’ office said. Total restitution in the case was more than $1.3 million.

Brown told the Bangor Daily News before pleading guilty last year she had “grossly underestimated” her sales because she was struggling with mental illness and spending little time attending to the restaurant’s business.

“The truth is I do owe the sales tax,” Brown said. “But … I have in good faith been paying all this money back.”

Mills said in a statement Tuesday that “Maine citizens trust business owners to pay” their taxes.

“My office will pursue individuals who abuse the trust placed in them to collect sales tax for the benefit of the people of the state of Maine,” she continued. “We also will strive to recover as much restitution as possible in order to make Maine taxpayers whole.”

BDN staff reporter Jake Bleiberg contributed to this report.

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Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.