What do an East Bay Taco Bell, a Pittsburg car dealership and a San Francisco cement company all have in common? They are all on a notorious state list of the top 250 businesses that have failed to pay their sales taxes.
"There is about $322 million dollars outstanding now," said Jerome Horton with the California State Board of Equalization.
Of the top 250, 42 are Bay Area businesses that collectively owe $80 million. They include San Francisco's Pacific Cement Company ($3.1 million), San Ramon's Wells Interiors ($2.4 million), and San Jose's South Bay Auto ($2 million).
Also among those who have failed to pay are the former owners of a Lafayette Taco Bell who owe $836,000. That debt dates back to 2002, and like most of them, the state has not been able to collect.
"The crooks get a little craftier and they get a little more aggressive and we need to do the same," said Horton.
Complicating the collection efforts of the state, most of the companies on the list are no longer in business.
By far, the most common offenders are car dealerships. The former owners of a Ford store in Pittsburg owe $1.2 million; same with the now-defunct Mazzei dealership across town.
"The question that immediately comes to mind is why is that money sitting there?" said Kris Hunt with the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. "Particularly from car dealerships, if it's from sales taxes on vehicles, why wasn't it remitted immediately?"
Whatever the reason, the California State Board of Equalization plans to crack down on all tax cheats, but especially car dealerships, with more frequent audits and better tracking of their sales through the Department of Motor Vehicles.