IRS offers scofflaws a reprieve Tardy taxpayers won't be prosecuted

June 08, 1993|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Staff Writer

Marylanders who have not paid taxes for more than a year may file late returns during the next two weeks without being prosecuted, federal and state tax officials announced yesterday.

Domenic LaPonzina, spokesman for the Baltimore district of the Internal Revenue Service, said that the initiative is not an "amnesty," like Maryland's 1987 program that forgave the interest and penalties normally assessed to late returns.

People who file late will face interest rates of 7 percent and a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the federal balance due, Mr. LaPonzina said. For state taxes, the interest rates are 12 percent to 13 percent and the maximum penalty is 25 percent, said Marvin Bond, state public affairs director.

People fail to file returns for "a myriad of reasons," including confusion over tax law revisions and the overwhelming responsibility of starting a business, he said.

But, Mr. LaPonzina said, "Come forward, and you won't face criminal prosecution. That's one burden we're lifting from you now."

Those who are found guilty of tax evasion face a sentence of up to five years in jail and a $100,000 fine.

People can submit federal and state tax returns or get assistance at the state income tax office at 301 W. Preston St. in Baltimore from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For those who need assistance on a weekend, federal and state tax officials will be at the IRS office on the first floor of the Fallon Federal Building, at 31 Hopkins Plaza in Baltimore, Saturday and June 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Those who do not wish to appear in person may mail their returns. But taxpayers must use forms from the year for which they are paying. For instance, a 1989 form must be completed for a 1989 return.

These forms are available only at the state income tax office and the specially arranged sessions at the federal building.

People representing delinquent taxpayers may pick up the forms with written notarization, Mr. LaPonzina said.

The effort is similar to initiatives in Salisbury in January and in Hagerstown in March. A total of about 150 taxpayers filed delinquent returns during the ventures, Mr. Bond said.

A similar initiative is being planned for the Washington area and the Southern Maryland suburbs in the next six months, Mr. LaPonzina said.

However he warned that authorities would continue to pursue people who don't pay taxes.

Mr. LaPonzina said that about one-third of those who have failed to file were due refunds. Self-employed people who fail to file returns jeopardize their chances of receiving Social Security benefits because they have no work history to qualify for benefits.

The federal treasury loses about $7 billion each year because of unpaid taxes.

"If we can just chip away at one-tenth of this, that's a considerable amount of money" Mr. LaPonzina said.

Maryland's 1987 tax amnesty eventually yielded more than $25 million in revenue for the state.

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