Mt. Lebanon restaurant owner stays out of jail because of impact on employees, judge rules
A Mt. Lebanon restaurant owner who did not pay more than $340,000 in personal and business taxes over three years won’t go to prison because that could cause about 40 employees to lose their jobs, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Donald J. DeBlasio, 69, owner of DeBlasio’s Restaurant, pleaded guilty in July to tax evasion. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended one year and six months to two years in prison for the Collier resident, who since paid the $341,129 he owed in taxes but still owes penalties and interest.
J. Alan Johnson, DeBlasio’s defense attorney and a former U.S. attorney, argued that sending DeBlasio to prison would put about 40 people out of work. An Air Force veteran and US Airways retiree, DeBlasio opened the restaurant in 1988 and is the sole owner.
“If Mr. DeBlasio was incarcerated, the restaurant would go out of business,” he said.
Leo Dillon, an assistant U.S. attorney, said DeBlasio knew for years that he faced a prison sentence and could have arranged for someone to operate his business while he served his sentence. He noted that the tax evasion required more planning than most crimes.
“He did that by false record-keeping, by skimming cash, by paying employees partly in cash,” Dillon said.
Giving DeBlasio a prison sentence is the only way to deter others who might consider evading taxes, he said.
Citing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book “The Scarlet Letter,” U.S. District Judge David Cercone said the embarrassment of being a convicted “tax cheat” is considerable punishment to a respected businessman. When fashioning a sentence, Cercone noted he can consider the economic impact it will have on others, such as DeBlasio’s employees.
“You have to look at the whole sentence,” Cercone said.
He sentenced DeBlasio to five years of probation, the first two of which he’ll spend on home confinement. He ordered DeBlasio to pay a $10,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.
“I’m very sorry this happened,” DeBlasio said, apologizing to the judge, his family and his friends.
He declined comment after the hearing.
Brian Bowling is a Total Trib Media staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-325-4301.