TAX WOES DEVOUR BIG APPLE EATERY

State posts seizure notices on Route 9 restaurant over bill

LEIGH HORNBECK STAFF WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Thursday, September 3, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Big Apple, a Route 9 restaurant that found itself in the spotlight last month when two employees with possible gang connections were arrested and charged with being in the U.S. illegally, received more bad news this week.


Tuesday, officials from the state Department of Taxation and Finance posted seizure notices on the building.


According to a state tax warrant, the company that owns the Big Apple -- Nonnopapa Enterprises Inc. -- owes the state $41,583 in unpaid sales taxes from 2008 and 2009. Also, according to public documents, Sysco Food Services of Albany filed a civil suit in January to recover $11,296 from the Big Apple.


Reached at home, restaurant co-owner Guy Benacquista said he had a tough winter and fell behind on his bills. Six weeks ago, he put the property up for sale with an asking price of $1.3 million. There is no for sale sign at the restaurant because Benacquista doesn't want to scare off potential customers. So far no buyer has come forward and Benacquista, 74, finds himself in debt and unable to operate the Big Apple. He said he asked the state for more time to line up investors and make good on his tax bill, and he was shocked when he came to work Wednesday morning and saw the seizure notices on the building.


Benacquista said his 15 Big Apple employees are now out of work.


"It's not as if we are sitting on our butts," Benacquista said. "We put our heart and soul into it and work seven days a week, whatever needs to be done."


Tom Bergin, a spokesman from state Taxation and Finance, could not discuss the Big Apple seizure specifically because of privacy laws but said, in general, there is no hard and fast timeline or a certain unpaid dollar amount that must be reached to trigger a seizure. The department "does not want to see businesses shut down," and a seizure does not mean the department stops negotiations with property owners, Bergin said.


Benacquista said he was forced to discontinue lunch service at the Big Apple when lunch cooks Salvador "Tony" Alas Palacios and Manuel Alas Duran were arrested. The men, who are cousins, are Salvadoran nationals and police suspect them of involvement with the violent Salvadoran MS13 gang. Benacquista said the men were good workers and he hired them believing the papers they presented were legitimate.