Ristorante Piccolo Owners Plead Guilty to $1.35 Million in Tax Evasion, Covid Fund Theft

Owners of Ristorante Piccolo at 1068 31st St. NW in Georgetown have pleaded guilty to tax evasion and using thousands of dollars in pandemic relief funds for their personal benefit.

Gholam “Tony” Kowkabi, 63, and his wife, 64-year-old Karen Kowkabi of Vienna, Virginia, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Aug. 14 to tax evasion for their failure to pay $1.35 million in taxes and stealing $738,000 from the emergency Covid-19 small business relief funds the restaurant received in 2020, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., WTOP reported.

Prosecutors said Kowkabi used a large portion of the funds on a $550,000 waterfront condo in Ocean City, Maryland, joint venture investments for the construction of homes in Great Falls totaling more than $237,000, more than $78,500 to open Divan Restaurant in McLean, payments toward his home mortgage, more than $14,000 on vacations, more than $62,000 on personal legal expenses, more than $20,000 on home improvement and more than $5,500 on college tuition payments for his child, NBC4 News reported.

Gholam Kowbaki “robbed a program intended to help fellow restauranteurs and other small business owners who were struggling to stay afloat amid the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Graves. “He also created an elaborate scheme to hide assets and play a shell game with the IRS so he could avoid paying the more than one million dollars in taxes that he and his business owed. Our Office will continue to vigorously prosecute such frauds.”

Prosecutors said the Kowkabis amassed an unpaid tax balance of $1.3 million from 1998 to 2018. They have agreed to pay that back to the IRS. The Kowkabis have operated Ristorante Piccolo since 1986 and also owned and operated Catch 15 and Tuscana West in D.C.

According to NBC4 News, “Tony Kowkabi pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion and faces up to 25 years in prison. Karen Kowkabi pleaded guilty to five counts of willfully failing to pay taxes and faces up to five years in prison. They are set to be sentenced this December.”

A fire on June 29 shut down Ristorante Piccolo. The fate of the restaurant remains unknown.


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