The owner of a South Carolina gas station who attracted customers by plastering former President Obama’s name all over his gas station now finds himself facing four counts of tax evasion.
Murad A. Alhanik, 39, the owner of the Obama Store and gas station in Columbia, S.C., was charged with “four counts of sales tax evasion,” WISTV reported.
The South Carolina Department of Revenue said Alhanik filed $971,935 in sales tax returns in the period between 2013 and 2016, but after an investigation the agency found the store’s sales was $2.6 million, according to a press release. Alhanik dodged paying more than $136,000 in sales taxes during that four-year period, the department said. Alhanik was booked into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, arrest records show. He could face up to five years in prison and fines nearing $10,000.
One that’s great for frequent customers like Larry Nelson, who says his stops here more often because of the president’s picture. “I feel like it does support him by coming here,” said Nelson.
Alhanik spent $4,000 to change the name and the look. “I think it’s a good marketing tool,” said Chiquita Burton, who owns Salon 5710 on North Main.
Burton says the gas station name change has prompted discussions in her hair salon, but she does not like the idea. “A lot of people think that it’s morally and ethically wrong to have the president beside beer, wine and cigarettes,” she said. “That’s portraying an image to society and also to the children here.”
Saleh, a native of Yemen, moved to the United States in 2004 and became a citizen in 2010. Saleh says, when he was a boy, he had a desire to come to the United States. He just never imagined he’d be a partner in a business named for a U.S. president. The Obama gas station began turning heads in 2011 when Alhanik bought the station and rebranded it to feature the 44th President of the United States.In January 2017, Alhanik told the Post and Courier that he would never change the name of the store despite Obama not being president anymore because “it’s still history.”
According to Saleh, the idea to name the gas station for Obama was inspired by a store in Michigan that had taken on the president’s name. In Democratic Richland County, and particularly in the mostly African-American upper North Main Street area, calling a gas station “Obama” ended up being a clever marketing tactic.
The outdoor fixtures at the store are painted a shade of blue often associated with Obama’s campaign materials, and a slightly altered version of the president’s instantly recognizable logo is on the store’s signage. Attention only intensified as many locals began to consider the station a lucky spot to buy lottery tickets, a legend that was likely bolstered by several big-ticket winners, including a $2 million ticket, at the store.
The owner renamed the station the “Obama Mart” during the former president’s first term.