Former owner of Savannah restaurant charged with tax crime involving failure to pay more than $400,000 in payroll taxes


Investigation covers six years of operation

Date: November 9, 2022


SAVANNAH, GA —The former owner of a Savannah pizza franchise faces a federal charge for withholding more than $400,000 in payroll taxes.

Melissa Metts Johnson, of Statesboro, Ga., is charged via an Information with Failure to Account for and Pay Over Employment Taxes, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The felony charge carries a statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and substantial financial penalties, followed by up to three years of supervised release after completion of any prison term.

There is no parole in the federal system.

"Employers who willfully fail to collect, account for, and deposit with the IRS employment tax due are stealing from the U.S. Treasury and gaining an unfair advantage over their honest competitors," said U.S. Attorney Estes. "Our office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who willfully fail to comply with their employment tax responsibilities."

As described in the Information, Johnson was the owner of LHMS Inc., which operated a franchise of Mellow Mushroom in Savannah. The Information alleges that from 2015 through 2019, the company spent thousands of dollars for Johnson's benefit, even as the company failed to turn over to the Internal Revenue Service the payroll taxes withheld from the company's employees.

The Information alleges that while the company withheld tax payments from employees' paychecks during the period, the company failed to pay all of those taxes to the IRS. "Altogether," the Information says, the "Defendant causes LHMS, Inc. to fail to account for and pay over $428,203.48 in payroll taxes." As recently as April 2020, the company failed to turn over $35,882.29 in payroll taxes due to the United States.

An Information contains only charges; a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, and prosecuted for the United States by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia.