Former Ashland restaurateur will serve 7 years for tax scheme

Posted: 1:00 PM September 20, 2010

A Florida federal court has sentenced a former Ashland restaurant owner to seven years in prison for his part in a tax and debt elimination scheme.

Eugene “Gino” Casternovia was one of three men sentenced in federal court in Pensacola today for helping people set up sham businesses to avoid taxes.

He had faced a possible 25-year prison sentence and $750,000 in fines for his role in a complicated scheme involving tax fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, attorneys for the U. S. Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Services said.

“There are consequences for disobeying the laws of our nation. These defendants are now being held accountable for their criminal behavior,” said IRS attorney Victor S. O. Song in a press release.

Williams resident Mark Lyons, who previously pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Lyon cooperated with the government and testified at trial against Casternovia and six others.

U.S. District Judge Margaret C. Rodgers set aside a jury verdict against another Ashland man, Robert Pendell, who was a former employee of Casternovia’s. He was acquitted on all counts.

Casternovia, 62, was arrested in August 2008. He and his wife, Kathryn, had lived in Ashland for 25 years and owned the now-defunct Northlight vegetarian restaurant and the Rainforest Cafe.

On March 31, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against eight people following a month-long trial in Pensacola involving the promotion of fraudulent schemes through a company known as Pinnacle Quest International, PQI or Quest International.

The government determined that Casternovia and others presented and sold tax-fraud schemes at trade shows and conferences around the world, including a presentation for 400 people aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in May 2007.

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