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Water Street Landing owner pays portion of tax bill, faces prison term

Jon DiBernardo settled part of his tax bill Friday.

Unfortunately for the Lewiston restaurant owner, his $200,000 check was restitution to the government and part of a plea deal convicting him of tax evasion.

DiBernardo, 51, owner of Water Street Landing, a well-known restaurant overlooking the Niagara River, was accused of under-reporting revenues, keeping two sets of books and paying employees off the books from 2006 to 2009.

Prosecutors say DiBernardo failed to report $419,221 in taxable income and $285,705 in employee wages over that time period.

As part of a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura O’Donnell and approved by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, he faces prison time when sentenced in January in addition to restitution of $304,000.

A well-known figure in local restaurant circles, DiBernardo still also owes another $104,000 after making his initial down payment on Friday.

“Through friends and family, he borrowed funds to demonstrate good faith and take responsibility for what he’s done,” said Paul J. Cambria Jr., DiBernardo’s defense attorney.

When DiBernardo first opened Water Street Landing, it succeeded a local landmark, the Riverside Inn.

Now recognized as one of Niagara County’s more established riverfront restaurants, Water Street Landing celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.

Over the years, the establishment has become popular as a restaurant, banquet center and music venue.

DiBernardo’s guilty plea is the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division.