A Davidsonville tax protester and his wife have received what may be the toughest sentence ever given for failing to file state income tax returns.
David Bruce Baker and his wife, Carol-Ann R. Baker, were sentenced yesterday to a total of 23 years in prison, fined $18,000 and ordered to pay $5,500 in back taxes for failing to file state income tax returns for the past several years.
Carolyn H. Henneman, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, said she was aware of no harsher sentences given for tax violations.
The couple, convicted on all seven counts during a three-day jury trial in June, failed to appear at a sentencing hearing Aug. 30. They were arrested after being stopped for speeding Oct. 3 in Memphis, Tenn., and were extradited to Maryland last week.
David Bruce Baker, a photographer, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, fined $12,000 and ordered to pay back taxes of about $2,855. Carol-Ann R.
Baker, a former supermarket worker, was sentenced to 11 years in jail, fined $6,000 and ordered to pay back taxes of $2,650.
In imposing the sentences, the maximum under the law, Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner told the couple he would "substantially reduce" the punishment if they filed returns for the past year and paid their back taxes. Carol-Ann Baker, 52, said she was willing to pay the money she owes as soon as possible.
Her 38-year-old husband, however, remained defiant during yesterday's sentencing hearing. Before the judge announced the sentence, Baker said his principles would not allow him to sign a tax return form he considers illegal.
"But I thank the state for prosecuting me. I am closer to God and I am closer to my wife," said David Bruce Baker, shaking as he held a Bible. "I forgive you both (prosecuting attorneys). I love you both. I love you, too, judge."
David Bruce Baker said his legal fight has left him a pauper. He was convicted of failing to file tax returns for 1985 through 1988. His wife was convicted of failing to file returns for 1986 through 1988.
During the hearing, Lerner read a letter from an unidentified friend of the couple, which described how the wife's love for her husband led her to follow his almost religious zeal for the anti-tax movement. The letter-writer said the husband was used by members of an unnamed, fanatical tax protest group.
"He became convinced by the group that he should undergo a symbolic crucifixion to save the people from an unjust tax system," the letter said.
Lerner said, "It's really a sad situation. These people have been led down a garden path."
Carol-Ann Baker originally told investigators she would not file any tax returns, but she said in court she had changed her mind. "I'm just sorry for all the problems I've caused to the court, the state and my family," she said.
Nearly a dozen family members were in court yesterday to show support for the couple. Responding to a question from the judge, a son and daughter admitted they had not filed tax returns in years past but said they were taking steps to file returns.
During their trial, the couple had maintained that their legal research showed state tax forms are not "registered" and are thus illegal. In a letter written after they fled the state in September, they said the trial was a "fraud." According to the letter, Lerner had said the looks on the jurors' faces in June showed they were shocked at the "almost unbelievable story" the couple relied on as a defense.
Carol-Ann Baker told the judge she thought her husband's research was correct. Her attorney, Anthony J. Girandola, cited the woman's Catholic upbringing to explain her devotion to her husband.
"I guess love is blind," Lerner said.
In a four-page letter-to-the-editor written while they were on the lam, the couple called their trial a "tightly controlled one-act morality play" and suggested government officials would have made more appropriate defendants. That letter was signed "David and Carol Baker, citizens in exile."
During yesterday's hearing, David Bruce Baker's attorney, Andrew J.
Groszer Jr., complained of Congress' track record in dealing with tax inequities and said some good could come from questioning the tax system.
"However, with David, it clearly became an obsession. He's a principled person and principle combined with obsession can lead to risk-taking," Groszer said.
He added, "I took a neutral attitude on whether they should file (tax returns)."
Henneman, the prosecutor, refused to accept the claim that the couple did not file tax returns out of principle. In a pleading contained in the court file, she noted that the couple had throughout the case varied their story on why they did not file.
"This guy was trying to get out of paying taxes," she said after the hearing.
David Bruce Baker said he was shocked by the maximum sentence and plans to appeal.
George H. Spriggs Jr., director of the income tax division of the state comptroller's office, said, "It sends a message out to those who would be interested in following the same line that Mr. and Mrs. Baker followed that it doesn't work. We all have to comply with the income tax laws."