‘I know what I did was wrong,’ Lake Norman restaurateur tells judge at sentencing

Blue Parrot Grill
Blue Parrot Grill

The owner of a landmark Lake Norman restaurant was sentenced to eight months in prison followed by eight months of confinement in his Mooresville home on Tuesday for attempted tax evasion.

Peter Gjuraj, 49, owner of the Blue Parrot Grill on N.C. 150 West in Mooresville, admitted to hiding about $2.8 million in income and filing false returns. He originally faced up to five years in prison, but prosecutors in the end requested an 18-month sentence with good behavior.

“I apologize to the court, my family and my community, Gjuraj told Judge Richard Voorhees in U.S. District Court in Statesville. “I know what I did, and I know what I did was wrong. But with the help I have gotten from my attorney and CPA, I promise this will never happen again.”

Court records show Gjuraj failed to report about $2.8 million in additional gross receipts to the IRS from 2012 through 2014. As a result, he owed an additional $320,000 in federal taxes.

[RELATED: Lake Norman restaurant owner agrees to plead guilty to tax evasion]

[RELATED: Owner of Lake Norman restaurant charged with tax evasion]

Gjuraj admitted to using business funds to purchase two houses for $375,000, cars worth about $80,000 and other personal expenditures, including travel and home improvements, according to court documents.

As a result of the unreported gross receipts, Gjuraj hid “a large part of the gross receipts of Blue Parrot from his tax return preparer,” according to a federal document. Because of the unreported receipts, he “fraudulently claimed various credits against taxes,” according to the document.

Gjuraj structured cash withdrawals to avoid filing currency transaction reports. For example, between July 8, 2013, and Sept. 27, 2013, he made about 15 withdrawals from a bank account totaling about $142,000, prosecutors said.

Gjuraj’s expenditures for 2012 through 2014 “were far in excess of his reported income,” according to a court record.

His lawyer, Eben Rawls of Charlotte, told the judge a check for the full amount Gjuraj owed was being paid to the government on Monday. When he pleaded guilty in June, the restaurateur agreed to pay about $537,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Rawls said Gjuraj worked tirelessly to build a successful restaurant, from five tables when he took over the establishment in 2011 to now serving 1,000 patrons on weekdays and up to 2,000 each day on weekends. He mentioned how Gjuraj has given much time and money to help others in the community.

He said Gjuraj was never lavish with how he spent the money he owed. “Peter and his wife do not live extravagant lives,” Rawls said. “No spending on trips, boats, jewelry,” he said.

“He has cried in my office,” Rawls said. “He has wept he has let so many people down. His heart weighs heavy every single day.”

His wife of 14 years, Alida Gjuraj, cried as she told the judge how Gjuraj “is a very dedicated, loving husband, father, son and brother. He does everything for his family.”

Voorhees said he agreed that Gjuraj has given to the community, helped others and built a successful business. But his actions in hiding gross receipts and structuring cash withdrawals to avoid filing currency transaction reports “show a dark side to the defendant’s behavior,” the judge said.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak