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Tax judge shoots down 'Al Capone' approach

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In a blow to the Indiana attorney general’s office, the state’s tax judge has shot down a legal theory that used jeopardy tax assessments to go after a purported puppy mill in Harrison County.

The ruling came late Friday in the case of Virginia and Kristin Garwood v. Indiana Department of Revenue, No.82T10-0906-TA-29. Tax Judge Martha Wentworth ruled against what the AG has dubbed the “Al Capone” approach to take down what it described as illegal puppy mill operations.

This case goes back to June 2009, when a mother and daughter from Harrison County were charged following a raid on their dairy farm. The state went to the Garwoods’ residence to serve the jeopardy tax assessments and demanded the family pay about $142,368 immediately or their personal property would be seized. When they couldn’t pay, police and animal rescue workers seized 244 dogs and puppies that were confined in squalid enclosures. The seized animals, some of testing positive for disease, were sold by the state to the Humane Society for a total $300.

The Garwoods eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of failing to pay 2007 to 2009 sales tax for the puppy-breeding and selling operation in Mauckport, Ind.

Indiana law didn’t offer the state a way to go after the Garwoods or similar tax delinquents, and the AG used the criminal tax evasion tool that had taken down 1930s crime boss Al Capone for not paying taxes on his operations. That method meant utilizing the Department of Revenue and its ability to issue jeopardy tax assessments, if at least one of four statutory circumstances were present.

The state has used this method multiple times in recent years, and the 16 warrants against the Garwoods was the second time that approach had been used. The Garwoods challenged the jeopardy tax assessments and filed an original tax appeal in the summer of 2009, arguing that they were deprived of their constitutional due process rights, thereby voiding the jeopardy assessments. The state disputed those claims, saying they were justified to use the assessments.

Judge Wentworth ruled against the state, finding that it hadn’t proved it had enough justification to issue the jeopardy assessments in this situation.

The state alleged the Garwoods were concealing property (the puppies) to avoid being taxed. The state argued that Virginia Garwood’s refusal to allow the Harrison County Animal Control onto her property at one point following a consumer complaint showed she was hiding the operation.

But Judge Wentworth disagreed, finding it was not reasonable to infer that Garwood’s intent was to conceal property to avoid paying taxes because one would not normally expect an animal control officer to be involved with tax collection matters. She also dismissed the state’s arguments that the Garwoods’ purchase of breeding animals in bulk was speculative as far as a way for them to conceal the individual sales of the dog operation.

While the Garwoods may not have been properly reporting and paying taxes, the evidence doesn’t prove they were intending not to pay or trying to thwart collection in any way, the judge determined.

“The Court holds that the Department did not show the presence of the statutorily prescribed exigent circumstances that the Garwoods intended to quickly leave the state, remove their property from the state, conceal their property in the state, or do another act that would jeopardize the collection of taxes,” she wrote.

Citing an Indiana Supreme Court ruling from 2002 about jeopardy assessments, Judge Wentworth noted that those tax tools should be issued as part of the state’s “power of the purse” and not its “power of the sword” in punishing crimes.

“Jeopardy assessments are a powerful collection tool that, when properly used, further the important state interest of collecting state tax revenue needed to pay for critical government services and conducting the business of the state,” Judge Wentworth wrote. “The designated evidence shows that the Garwoods did not remit the proper amount of tax due to the state on their sales, a fact the Garwoods have repeatedly acknowledged. Nonetheless, the Department overstepped its authority in this case by issuing jeopardy assessments without having shown exigent circumstances required by Indiana Code 6-8.1-5-3 and 45 IAC 15-5-8.”

The case is remanded to the state revenue department with instructions to void the Garwoods’ jeopardy assessments. The state now has the option of asking the Indiana Supreme Court to consider the case.
 

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  • Correction
    Also, you refer to squalid conditions. The conditions at the farm were NOT squalid. The dogs had safe outdoor kennels, shade, igloo style shelters, water, food, bedding, there were pallets of food for the dogs and a refrigerator with immunizations to use on puppies. Please consider the actual facts of the case, not the media hype.
  • Correction
    You say in your article that the State did not have "a way to go after the Garwoods or other tax delinquents." That is not true. The State could have pursued this case like any other tax assessment case, sending an assessment, allowing for a hearing if there was an objection, etc. The jeopardy assessment procedure is certainly not the only way to pursue someone who has not paid their taxes.

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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