Roberto Donna May Be Cooking for His Freedom

by ARLnow.com October 14, 2010 at 3:44 pm 4,582 11 Comments

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

  • Anthony

    Donna is fooling people. If he is just an employee, then why is his picture on the restaurtant’s website? So, he’s just an employee so that the tax people can’t close his business down?

  • G. Clifford Prout

    F.X.O. is a comedian. Love the girl scout quote.

  • Phillys Richmond

    Bebo Trattoria sucked. Robero Donna is the classic case of someone resting on his laurels and milking something he was accaimed for long after there is any reason to.

  • He should be made to do a TV reality show and pay all the earnings to his victims.

  • Skeptical

    Well, they’re not going to get the money out of him if they send him to jail (though I’m giggling insanely at the idea of Roberto Donna complaining about the jail food and ending up having to eat “the loaf”). I never could understand the usefulness of throwing people into prison for debt (they owe the state money so the state pays to feed and house them?), especially in this age of digital money when garnishing people’s income is yea easier than it once was. Maybe Googla has the best idea.

    • Frenchy B

      He’s on a twenty-six year payment plan – odds are that he’ll never pay off his debt (either via default or death). If he fails to meet the terms of this agreement, he better be locked up. Restaurant owners need to stop dipping into the meals tax funds they collect.

      • Skeptical

        Well, I agree that payment plan is farcical, given the kind of money that rattles around in the business he is in. In the modest range of Arlington incomes, I had the same monthly payment for a new household HVAC system. And I vote yes on introducing him to the “used Toyota” life style.

  • g_clifford_prout

    He probably would be able to pay everything back if he sold is multi-million dollar house, drove a used Toyota, and lived like 95% of law abiding citizens. Oh, he could eat as little less too.

  • ArlingtonAaron

    I’m concerned about his ability to make 26 years of monthly payments on a regular schedule. As he proved on Iron Chef, twice, time management isn’t really his thing…

  • Arlington Bill

    Bebo had very so-so service, in addition food was over priced, and the bar understocked.

  • Pingback: Will Cook For Freedom | roberto donna bail out()


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