Two southern Maine restaurateurs have pleaded guilty to tax evasion and have agreed to each pay more than $1 million in restitution in addition to serving time in jail, court records show.

As part of separate deals with prosecutors, Cynthia Brown, 57, the owner of J’s Oyster Bar in Portland’s Old Port, and John DiSanto Sr., 59, owner of Anjon’s Italian Restaurant on Route 1 in Scarborough, pleaded guilty to failing to pay taxes on sales made at their restaurants.

Brown is expected to repay $1,077,045 in back taxes. DiSanto will be expected to pay as much as $1,159,655, according to court records, but the final tally on what he owes could change, said Thomas Hallett, who represents both DiSanto and Brown,

Brown is expected to serve at least four months in jail. If she does not meet a deadline to repay the money, her sentence will be increased to nine months, court records show.

Hallett said Wednesday that he expects the court to approve an extension of Brown’s deadline to pay, and delay her sentencing from July until October. Hallett also said his client has secured a loan in case she cannot earn enough during this summer’s busy tourist season to meet the repayment deadline.

“She’s already paid off about a quarter of a million dollars,” Hallett said. She hopes to pay off more using bar revenue to avoid borrowing as much as possible, he said.


Brown and DiSanto, along with DiSanto’s sister, Anna, 56, of Raymond, who operates DiSanto’s Restaurant in Gray, were indicted a year ago on the tax charges after the state cracked down on eateries suspected of withholding sales taxes.

The court records do not say how much Anna DiSanto allegedly withheld, but prosecutors allege it is more than $10,000.

Her case is still pending and was continued after her attorney, Daniel Lilley, died in March. She pleaded not guilty and is free on personal recognizance until her case is resolved. Anna DiSanto’s new attorney, Richard Berne, said in a phone interview that he was recently hired on the case and is not familiar enough with the details to say what direction it is headed.

No working phone number could be located for Brown, and she did not respond to a message left Wednesday afternoon at her restaurant and bar, which is a longtime landmark on the Portland waterfront.

A message left with someone at a residence listed for Anna DiSanto was not immediately returned, and a number for John DiSanto Sr. could not be located.

John DiSanto Sr. faces a maximum penalty under the plea agreement of nine months in jail, but the precise length of his sentence will be up to a judge, Hallett said. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17.


The case of John DiSanto Sr. is more complicated, Hallett said, because part of his case was diverted into civil court. The amount the civil court ordered him to pay was less – in the neighborhood of $800,000 – but Hallett did not know the actual amount and said it was still unclear which amount he would be made to pay.

Hallett said the state revenue service had been lax in enforcing sales tax collection for seasonal restaurants until about 2012, when it clamped down and began examining restaurants’ books.

Last January, Christos Stratos, the owner of Christo’s restaurant in Sanford, was sentenced to eight months in jail for stealing $243,902 in sales tax he collected but did not turn over to the state. Stratos told Maine Revenue Service investigators that he thought it was common for business owners to under-report sales tax figures to the state.

The criminal statute allows investigators to probe into the past when they calculate an amount a business owner owes, Hallett said. It wasn’t clear how long the restaurants had been underpaying sales taxes to the state, except that it was a period of years.

“There is a lot of money involved in these cases where they go back a number of years,” Hallett said.

Anjon’s was put up for sale in December for a list price of $1.36 million, but Hallett said no one, to his knowledge, has bought the property.


Hallett also lamented the media coverage about his clients’ businesses at the peak of tourist season. “It would be so much better if these articles are to appear in October and November,” he said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: