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Roberto Donna May Be Cooking for His Freedom

Acclaimed chef and convicted tax cheat Roberto Donna just opened a new DC restaurant that he hopes will return him to his former James Beard Award-winning glory. If it doesn’t, he could be going to jail.

Donna pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement this summer, after pocketing about $140,000 in meals taxes paid by customers at his now-defunct Bebo Trattoria restaurant in Crystal City. He received a five-year suspended sentence contingent on the repayment of back taxes. But Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary is not happy the $500 per month repayment schedule that state prosecutors set for the $148,000 in taxes and penalties Donna currently owes the county.

“I am far from satisfied with this pace since, should it continue, we will not receive our last payment until September 2036,” O’Leary said. “In all likelihood, I will not be Treasurer at that point, but you can never tell.”

Should Donna’s financial problems continue — according to a recent Washington Post article, he was nearly $40,000 behind on his mortgage and owed at least $70,000 on credit cards — the chef may be unable to meet his repayments. And should that happen, O’Leary is poised to ask the Commonwealth’s Attorney to send him to jail.

Arlington County authorities, however, apparently are not the only ones after Donna. O’Leary said he believes that Virginia’s tax enforcers and the IRS are close to prosecuting Donna for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unpaid sales and employment taxes. He’s also being sued by former employees.

“As far as I can tell, the only organization in the United States of America that’s not after Roberto Donna is the Girl Scouts of America,” O’Leary quipped.

There may be a silver lining for Donna, however. His long-awaited Galileo III restaurant opened in the District last week. And, as it turns out, the restaurant is receiving kudos from the area’s foodie circles.

As chef, Donna is merely an employee at Galileo III. He’s no longer a partner, no longer in charge of business dealings. But should the restaurant inherit the critical praise and the commercial success that the original Galileo received in the 1980s, Donna will likely remain gainfully employed, keeping O’Leary at bay.

Donna did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Photo via galileorestaurant.com

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