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Community rallies for business owner
The future of a landmark Dawson County eatery lies in the balance after the Georgia Department of Revenue seized the Dawsonville Pool Room at lunchtime May 9.
According to a notice posted on the front door of the downtown restaurant, the seizure stems from nearly $84,000 in unpaid taxes and fees.
"I'm kind of shocked, because we've been working with them to get this resolved," said Gordon Pirkle, who has owned the Pool Room since the mid-1960s. "The last time we heard from them, they said we were down to about $30,000 we owed."
Employees and patrons said agents arrived at the Pool Room shortly before noon May 9, ordered everyone out and took possession of the property.
"They showed up in bullet-proof vests and wearing their guns, and ordered everyone to pay and then ordered them out," he said. "I've always thought you were innocent till proven guilty, but not with taxes. They come in, close you down and then you have to prove to them that you're innocent."
The posted notice lists delinquent taxes totaling $43,612 dating back to April 2008. Another $40,000 is owed in penalties, interest and collection fees.
On Tuesday, Pirkle said he has since been asked to provide tax documentation for the last 20 years. He added that he could face nearly $80,000 in additional taxes and penalties.
Pirkle was out of town at a funeral when authorities seized the restaurant and changed the locks on its doors.
"There's no way that I can owe that much," he said. "We have the documentation since we started putting everything on computer. I hope I'm enough of a pack rat to be able to find the rest of them boxed up in storage."
Initially, Pirkle said the problems stem from issues he had with a former accountant, Warren Pennington. A day later he said he misspoke about Pennington's involvement in the matter.
"They filed the claim, but we were responsible for paying it," Pirkle said on Thursday.
In 2010, Pennington was found guilty on several felony theft counts in connection with funneling client funds intended to pay income tax liabilities. The same year, Pennington's office manager pleaded guilty to stealing from the firm.
"We know we had money set aside to pay the taxes," Pirkle said. "... We found some that we thought had been paid. We've been trying to work that all out."
According to Pirkle, the state agents "took all the money from two register drawers and cleaned out the video gaming machines."
His current accountant is reviewing the case to determine how to proceed.
Pirkle said he's working with the state to work out a payment plan. "But we've got to get it down to something we can live with, something that we think is fair."
Jud Seymour, communications director for the department of revenue, said the next step would be for Pirkle to begin negotiations and maybe "set up a payment plan or an offer in compromise."
"Once a compromise happens, they would be able to reopen the business," he said.
Seymour acknowledged the Pool Room's legacy and presence in the Dawsonville community.
"I understand it's a pretty big deal up there," he said.
A Dawsonville institution, the Pool Room pays homage to native son and NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, with news clippings lining the walls.
There are also Ford front bumpers suspending from the ceiling and a tire sitting next to the register from Elliott's 1985 Southern 500 victory.
For Pirkle, the outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming.
Accounts have been set up at First Citizens Bank and United Community Bank to "Help Save the Pool Room."
Pirkle's grandsons also organized a group on Facebook with the same name. Within 24 hours of the raid, more than 400 people had joined the group.
"I appreciate all the support me and my family has received," he said.
The state allowed Pirkle to return to the restaurant on Thursday to clear any perishable food from coolers. Still, he's concerned about his employees and the business.
"All together, this puts about 12 people out of work," he said. "Plus having to close for even a few days or a week will kill you."