Restaurateur sentenced in sales tax fraud

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A Theater District restaurateur from Westbury has begun serving a prison sentence for failing to turn over sales taxes he collected from diners, authorities said Thursday.

Nicholas Rotundo, 47, was sentenced by Judge Larry Stephen in Manhattan Criminal Court to 1 to 3 years in state prison over $447,000 in sales taxes he failed to collect between June 1, 2007, and Nov. 30, 2011, at the FireBird restaurant, according to District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

Rotundo pleaded guilty May 9 to grand larceny and criminal tax fraud charges, records show.

According to his plea bargain, Rotundo, a former manager and part owner of the Russian eatery, agreed to pay $690,000 on behalf of the restaurant for taxes, interest and penalties. He was also hit with a $20,000 criminal fine, Vance's office said. Records show he has until July 20 to pay the fine.

Rotundo also failed to withhold the proper tax amount from employees' salaries, the district attorney's office said.

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Rotundo's defense attorney, Scott Druker, of Garden City, conceded his client is guilty but said the unremitted taxes were reinvested in the restaurant.

"Like so many other restaurants in Manhattan . . . the money was just going to keeping the place afloat," Druker said last night of the FireBird, located on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

Rotundo surrendered to begin his prison term when he was sentenced.

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A message left Thursday with a manager for the restaurant -- which boasts a $34 chicken Kiev, a $27 borscht and 160 vodkas from around the world -- wasn't returned.

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