A Texas business owner who fought last year’s economic shutdown orders says the state is threatening to shut down his business today if he doesn’t pay them $12,000. He says he’s going to work hard, even washing cars, to try and survive.

Chris Polone said the Texas Comptroller demanded to be paid $17,000—which he doesn’t have—by 5:00 p.m., Friday, or they’ll revoke his business’ Sales and Use Tax Permit. They agreed to lower it to $12,000.

Polone owns the Rail Club Live, a live-music venue in Fort Worth, and is one of the “51-percenters” (bar owners whose majority of profit comes from selling alcohol) that united to challenge last year’s shutdown edicts of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“They’re saying we didn’t pay for November, December 2020. Well, because our businesses were closed,” said Polone. Without the permit, the Rail Club Live can’t operate. “It’s illegal for me to sell anything.” He also disputes the amount the Comptroller claims he owes. “We on average pay like $900— maybe a couple of grand on good months—a month in Sales and Use Tax. Not $12,000,” he said. “That would mean I would have to have done like $300,000 in business. I haven’t done $300,000 in business since I opened the club.”

“That’s a mafia move right there,” commented Jennifer Ekwonye.

Before this, Polone had paid the Comptroller $2,400 in June. Warren Norred, Polone’s attorney, negotiated an extension until Monday to pay the $12,000. In a Facebook Livestream hours later, Polone said when they protested the amount, the Comptroller replied that it was the grand total of all taxes they claim he owes.

Polone says the Comptroller hasn’t “followed due process.”

“We don’t have letters, we don’t have phone calls from them, nothing,” he said. “When you owe ‘em money, the Comptroller will come in with the sheriff’s department and clear out your cash registers. They haven’t even done that to us.”

“We just got a letter in the mail last week saying that we had a hearing we had to attend today. There was no time on the hearing. There is no link to the hearing because It’s all virtual nowadays,” he continued. “It says that if you pay the amount due prior to the court hearing, then it goes away. For two weeks now, my lawyers have been calling the comptroller trying to figure out how much we owe, or trying to figure out what the hell this is about.”

The letter doesn’t show how much is owed. “My attorneys have been calling them all week long, and they waited till Friday to have this conversation with us: the day it’s due.”

Texas Scorecard contacted the Texas Comptroller and asked about the situation. No response was received before publication time.

“How does this happen in Texas [Gov. Abbott]?” someone asked on Twitter.

“Don’t forget that [Abbott] was for shutdowns before he was against them, and still not backing down,” Dave Kleikamp said.

Polone is targeted by TABC as well. He had his permit suspended by TABC at a July 4 protest last year, his home raided by TABC officers, and received citations and fines. They’ve also accused Rail Club of selling expired Pabst Blue Ribbon alcohol last September. “The kicker is, we didn’t sell PBRs back then,” Polone said.

Scandals follow TABC. Officials were caught using taxpayer money for trips to Hawaiian resorts, the commissioner misreported who drove its vehicles in 2017, and it has a relationship with big beverage companies. The agency’s chairman, Kevin Lilly, owns the largest wealth management company in Texas and has been criticized for regulating companies that provide him profit.

Polone made clear his feelings on all of this. “The system is rigged against the small business owner,” he said. “Not only did they close down all of our businesses, they made us continue paying our taxes to the extent of even freezing our bank accounts at times.”

“The difference between me and Texas is they pay their attorneys by the year with yours and [my] tax dollars. I pay mine by the hour with a broken business,” he said. “I’m going to work like hell for the next 72 hours.”

Polone will be washing cars at Rail Club Live tomorrow, and encourages citizens to check out his shows.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.