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The U.S. Department of Justice announced the president and founder of Happy's Pizza has been convicted cheating the government out of $6.23 million through tax fraud and tax evasion.

Happy Asker was found guilty Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Michigan.

Asker's convictions include: three counts of filing false federal individual tax returns for the years 2006 through 2008; 28 counts of aiding and assisting the filing of false returns, and payroll tax returns for several pizza franchises for 2006 and 2009 and one count of engaging in a corrupt endeavor to obstruct and impede the IRS code.

In a statement from the company Asker said: "We are surprised and disappointed by the verdict. Although we respect the decision of the jury, we will consider options for an appeal and will pursue those options over the next few months.

"The indictment did not include Happy's Pizza Franchise LLC and involved only a handful of our 100 franchise locations, " Asker said. "We have made the changes necessary to ensure a similar situation never occurs again within our company. With this said, we will not discuss the matter further at this time."

Due to be sentenced on March 5, Asker faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to defraud the government; three years maximum and a $250,000 fine for each count of filing a false return; and a maximum of three years and a $250,000 fine on the obstruction charge.

Asker — who established his first Happy's Pizza in Detroit in 1994 — had ownership interests in multiple Happy's Pizza franchises in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

Asker, along with four co-defendants, substantially under reported individual corporate income tax and payroll tax returns submitted for nearly all 60 Happy's establishments in the three states.

According to the government, Asker shared the unreported income during a weekly cash "profit split" with co-defendants Tom J. Yaldo, Arkan Summa, Tagrid Summa Bashi and Maher Bashi.

The four co-defendants pleaded guilty to corruption, providing false documents and obstruction prior to Asker's trial.

The case was investigated by special agents from IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Senior Litigation Counsel Corey Smith and Trial Attorney Mark McDonald for the Justice Department's Tax Division prosecuted the case.

TGreenwood@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2023

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