Tamara Wintzell, the owner of a handful of Fairhope-area restaurants, was indicted by a grand jury on 60 counts of evading payment of sales tax to the city of Fairhope and the state of Alabama. She faces up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine per count if convicted.
Wintzell, 57, owns retail businesses in Fairhope under the collective name of Tamara’s Restaurant Group. She owns and operates Tamara’s Downtown, The Venue, Tamara’s Catering and Old Bay Steamer. She was arrested by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office on a grand jury indictment June 24 and released the same day on $60,000 bond.
According to the indictment, filed May 13, the case dates back to April 2010, when investigators believe Wintzell prepared and filed fraudulent sales tax returns with the Alabama Department of Revenue. In those returns, the indictment alleges Wintzell reported the amount of sales tax she owed to the state and the city of Fairhope was well below what she actually owed. The 60 counts are dated between April 2010 and August 2015.
“Whether it’s tax evasion, ID theft refund fraud or any other tax-related criminal activity, the Alabama Department of Revenue is always working hard to ensure that our citizens’ hard-earned money goes to the state services it is intended for, rather than ending up in the hands of criminals” Revenue Commissioner Julie P. Magee said in a statement to the press. “I commend our Investigations Division and Baldwin County law enforcement officials and citizens for their vigilance in this case.”
Contacted July 1, neither Alabama Department of Revenue Public Information Manager Frank Miles nor investigator Randy Day would comment further on the case. According to the state revenue department, all state sales tax revenue funds public school systems in Alabama and sales tax paid to the city of Fairhope supports its general fund for city operations.
Wintzell’s arraignment is set for Aug. 10.
In a separate legal entanglement, Wintzell’s neighbor Robin Sanders filed suit against her July 1 alleging Wintzell’s use of a “very large commercial smoker” in her backyard on Nichols Avenue in Fairhope causes excessive smoke that amounts to a nuisance in the residential neighborhood.
According to the complaint, Sanders noticed an “excessive amount” of smoke coming from Wintzell’s home in April 2015. The complaint alleges Wintzell uses the smoker to cook meats for her catering business, Tamara’s Catering. Due to the amount of smoke, the complaint alleges, Sanders and other neighbors are unable to enjoy the use of their backyards, which impacts their lifestyle. The complaint says numerous requests by Sanders to stop the smoking were ignored.
The complaint alleges Wintzell’s use of the smoker has created an unhealthy condition on Sanders’ property and constitutes a nuisance under state law. It also alleges the smoke constitutes a trespass because Wintzell continues to allow the smoke to drift onto Sanders’ property after his numerous pleas to stop.
Finally, the complaint alleges the continued use of the smoker is negligent in that it has caused Sanders a “loss of property, general damage, diminution in real property value, incidental expenses, loss of and damage to personal property, sleeplessness, anxiety, destruction of improvements on real property and the cost of repairs.”
Sanders is represented by attorney Adam Milam, who said Wintzell moved next door to Sanders around 2013 and soon after constructed a “mammoth commercial grade smoker” in her yard.
“This has caused a great nuisance to Mr. Sanders and the entire neighborhood from the excessive smoke, smell and activity in their quiet residential neighborhood,” Milam said. “Mr. Sanders tried for over a year to get her to stop. She has not. It is our belief that she was cooking food at her home to cater and serve her business with Tamara’s Catering and The Venue in downtown Fairhope.”
The complaint seeks a restraining order to stop Wintzell from using the smoker as well as compensatory, consequential, incidental and punitive damages. The complaint also asks the court to order that Wintzell immediately remove the smoke from Sanders’ property and cease using the commercial smoker on residential property.
The case has been assigned to Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Joe Norton and the plaintiff has requested a jury trial.