KEYPORT — The state Division of Taxation has closed Jersey Shore Subs & Soups, which is owned by ex-mayor John Merla, for not paying sales tax.
“The Division of Taxation has seized the establishment for failure to remit State Sale (sic) Tax,” Christopher Santarelli, a division spokesman wrote in an email last Friday. “The Division is in contact with the owners of the establishment to determine if they can fulfill the outstanding balance, before the State takes further action.”
Santarelli refused to say how long sales tax had not been paid, or how much the sub shop owes.
An orange sheet of paper was posted on the two entrances to the shop at 15 Main St. that says the property within the building has been seized by the state. The paper warns away anyone from entering the premises.
On Thursday, Merla refused to comment, but earlier this week he posted a long note about the closure on his personal Facebook page:
“The Past 14 Days Have Without a Doubt, Been The Toughest Time For Me Personally, When The SAY The Devil Works 24-7 Thats No Bull !!! Yes It Is True My Store Has Been Temporarly Closed Down For The Past Week, The Little Orange Sticker Doesn’t Tell All Only What The Haters Want To Read…I Personally Can’t Believe The Amount Of Friends, Great Customers And Family That Have Reached Out To Me Or A Family Member To Try To Help, This Setback, Just Made Me Much Much Stronger Then Ever, We Have OptionsAnd We Are Weighing Our Options Very Carefully… Many Of You Want The Store Back OPEN, And That Is One Of Are Options…I Just Can’t Tell You How HARD I’ve Worked This Past 5 Years To Make A Little Business Work For Our Community, I Really Wasn’t Going To Write This But Because Of The Support For The Business And My Family I Had Too…. I’m Sure Those That Have Been Supportive Will Appreciate It, And Those Who Like The Drama, And Want To Continue To Hate,Love It Too…. All I Can Say Is We’re Looking At Every Option Possible….The Devil Might Work 24-7, But I Work Harder…… Anyone That Knows What I’ve Done And My Business Has Contributed, Knows Where My Heart Lies…….Thank You For Your SUPPORT!!!!!!!”
A Go Fund Me campaign, started by Kevin S. Nasta, is attempting to raise $30,000 in support of Merla and his sub shop. As of Thursday at 5:30 p.m., $425 has been pledged by six people.
Jersey Shore Subs has been a popular spot in Keyport.
Merla and the shop have routinely won accolades for his chili at the annual Screamin’ Country Jamboree. He took third place this year.
The shop was also one of two Keyport sandwich joints to receive praise from readers of the Asbury Park Press this summer.
The ex-mayor has run the shop for the past five years. He recently debuted a new menu and was trying to pivot towards healthier breakfast options and prepared dinners.
Merla also used the storefront as a center to accept candy donations for the borough’s annual Halloween parade.
This is not Merla’s first brush with the law.
Merla was swept up in a federal sting along with other Monmouth County politicians in 2005. He was arrested on a charge that he took a $24,000 bribe from an FBI cooperating witness in exchange for borough contracts.
He pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in 2007 and was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison. Merla, who had been Keyport’s mayor at the time of his arrest, resigned from the post when he pleaded guilty.
And in 1992, during his first term as mayor, he was arrested on state corruption charges.
Merla was accused of taking a bribe to help extend the borough’s sewer system to a now defunct trailer park at the end of Green Grove Avenue. He was acquitted of those charges.
Correction: An earlier version of the story listed the incorrect address for Jersey Shore Subs 7 Soups.