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John Lewis Blewett

The owner of one of Chattanooga's largest gay bars pleaded guilty Tuesday to tax evasion and agreed to pay $14,400 in restitution to the state for unpaid sales taxes.

John Lewis Blewett, 70, owner of the Images dance and show bar on Lee Highway, pleaded guilty to one felony count of filing fraudulent Tennessee sales tax returns. Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman sentenced Blewett to six years supervised probation and ordered Blewett to pay the state for the unpaid taxes that were uncovered during an investigation by the state revenue department's special investigations section.

"The Department of Revenue promotes voluntary taxpayer compliance by educating taxpayers, aggressively pursuing criminal sanctions and demanding accountability when taxpayers engage in fraudulent activity," Tennessee Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts said in a statement Tuesday. "This investigation underscores the department's ongoing efforts to enforce Tennessee's tax laws."

Formerly known as Mirage, Images was founded in 1997. On its web site, the show bar bills itself as "the epitome of upscale within the entertainment industry.

"We endeavor to service our GLBT & Gay-Friendly community, with pride and establish merchant programs that will enable us to provide our customers the opportunity to review what is happening within our community as a whole," the company web site says.

Blewett, president of Mirage Images, Inc., was elected to the board of Equality Tennessee, a statewide organization that advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. In 2009, Blewett was awarded Tennessee Valley Pride's Lester Childress "Della Reeves" Community Service Award.

Tennessee's Department of Revenue, which is responsible for collecting state taxes in Tennessee, pursued the criminal case in cooperation with Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's office.

Citizens who suspect violations of Tennessee's revenue laws should call the toll-free tax fraud hot line at (800) FRAUDTX (372-8389).

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