Motel owner in legal battle over taxes |

Motel owner in legal battle over taxes

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The owner of a South Lake Tahoe motel pleaded not guilty to 21 misdemeanor counts stemming from allegations she owes the city $4,000 in taxes.

Vienna Bertolano, owner of Bear’s Den at Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Keys boulevards, provided the plea through a letter sent by her attorney.

Charges against Bertolano include violations against city code to timely pay and file reports. Embezzlement charges are also included.

The motel owner is represented by Vallejo attorney Frank Epstein, who declined comment.

Bertolano recently bought the motel and invested $250,000 for remodeling. She donates time to the community and said in a past interview she was mulling selling her Bay Area house to raise money.

The city contends Bertolano hasn’t paid the transient occupancy tax and gave the owner ample time and warnings before sending the matter to the district attorney’s office.

Each misdemeanor count has a punishment of up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. However, Hans Uthe, assistant district attorney, said it is unlikely Bertolano will face the maximum of each count if convicted.

Bertolano’s case is the first to enter the court system after the city began cracking down on delinquent motel and hotel owners. Some have paid but Bruce Budman, director of the city’s finance department, said 11 other motels and hotels owe the city more than $100,000.

“If they’re not complying, they basically stole city money,” Budman said. “I think there’s an awareness out there right now and people are trying to be more diligent but I still have to make a couple of calls every month.”

Budman wouldn’t speculate on how many, if any, other delinquent motel and hotel owners could face criminal charges. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department is continuing its investigation into the Christiania Inn and Thunderbird Motel, said Detective Robert Hight. Hight would not guarantee they would be forwarded to the district attorney’s office.

Uthe doesn’t foresee, or want, a vast influx of motel and hotel owners appearing in court.

“From what I hear I don’t expect a huge groundswell of cases and quite frankly I don’t think we could handle a groundswell” with the current caseload, he said.

— E-mail William Ferchland at

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