The recent indictment of Fannin Mart Restaurant owner Steve Page on charges of felony tax evasion highlights what state revenue officials call a growing epidemic costing Mississippi nearly $190 million last year alone.
Tax dodging has soared among businesses and corporations in the Magnolia State, particularly in the past five years, said Department of Revenue spokeswoman Kathy Waterbury.
Unpaid sales taxes and use taxes due to under-reporting reached a record high in fiscal 2014, nearly doubling from the previous fiscal year's $103.5 million.
"And those are just the cases we know about," Waterbury said.
The agency audited just 2 percent of businesses operating in the state last year. Among them, it found seven of every 10 foreign corporations and nearly nine of every 10 locally owned entities owed taxes.
"Some of it is people just making mistakes; they don't know that something is taxable," Waterbury said. "And then there are those who intentionally set about to not report what they owe."
The Department of Revenue alleges Page falls under the second category of business owners. After its criminal investigators turned over their case to the district attorney, Page was indicted on eight counts of tax evasion and eight counts of fraudulent statements and representations.
The indictment, filed in Rankin County Circuit Court on Oct. 6, alleges Page had significantly under-reported his gross retail taxable sales for an eight-month period spanning parts of 2012 and 2013 and, as a result, paid just a fraction of the sales taxes he owed the state.
Page's cozy restaurant on Miss. Highway 25 in Flowood bustled during a recent lunch rush with customers dining on home-cooked favorites like fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy.
Menus are hand-written daily on paper bags; staff greets diners warmly; antique items decorate the walls.