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6th Street Vendor Jailed, Briefly, for Tax Evasion

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The saga of the few remaining 6th Street Marketplace tenants has twisted in a new direction: jail.

George Missak, owner of the Mediterranean Grille and the Blues Cafe & Bistro, has received a six-month sentence, with six months suspended, for failing to pay the city $35,379.42 in meals taxes.

Missak is one of a handful of food-court vendors remaining in the city-subsidized shopping center that opened in the mid-1980s. The city announced last year that the food court would close in 2007, but it limps along. Vendors must be out next month.

As for Missak, he's holding his breath, waiting for word of a resettlement package similar to the one other vendors received when the city demolished most of the marketplace, which originally stretched from Marshall to Grace streets.

Even though the sentence was suspended, Missak was fingerprinted, had his mugshot taken and was put in a holding cell for about 30 minutes.

Apart from what he sees as excessive heavy-handedness, he's particularly incensed by the city's willingness to prosecute him while it neglects the building.

Last week, rain fell freely in the building's atrium, and the heating was acting up, so employees were wearing scarves and hats indoors.

"The building is falling in around them," Councilwoman Ellen Robertson says. Vendors can always negotiate for resettlement money after they leave, she says, but the location is clearly not working for any of them.

So is it right for the city to sentence a vendor to jail time if the city is the landlord of the deteriorating building?

The poor condition of the building doesn't legally excuse Missak's delinquency, but it sure raises some questions, says Jeff Geiger, a partner at the law firm of Sands Anderson Marks & Miller.

He says threatening to put Missak in jail for failing to make enough money -- essentially putting him in debtors' prison — sounds more like feudal England than modern America.

"Aside from the whole legal issue is the question of whether the public sector is going to be held to a higher moral standard," Geiger says. "I think it's especially the case when they ask the citizens to partner with it [and] take on what the city assumes to be a public function, such as economic development, and it fails."

While in lockup, Missak stayed in the center of the room, avoiding the three other inmates comparing convictions. One was there for breaking and entering, another for assault. "What are you in for?" they asked Missak.

Not paying taxes, he said. They laughed.

"Well, you know, Al Capone was jailed for not paying taxes," Missak replied, not to be outdone. He's filed an appeal.



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