At last, the IRS answers all the burning questions

April 10, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

Try to turn on a television set or radio between now and April 15 and avoid hearing Domenic J. LaPonzina.

Go ahead and try.

Domenic J. LaPonzina, 42, is the IRS Public Affairs Officer for the Baltimore District, which includes all of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

A graduate of Calvert Hall High School, Towson State and Johns Hopkins, he covered the Spiro Agnew trial for ABC network news before joining the IRS in 1973.

It has been said of Mr. LaPonzina, a fancier of classic cars, fine horses and exquisite suits, that he has so much savoir-faire that if he had any more savoir it just wouldn't be fair.

Recently, I asked him the top dozen or so questions that are on all of our minds right now:

Me: Can I deduct my old underwear from my taxes like President Clinton did?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Let me couch that answer. If your underwear happens to be part of a contribution of clothing to a charitable organization, then conceivably, yes, you can take a deduction limited to the fair market value at the time of contribution.

Me: Is it true William Donald Schaefer has not filed an income tax return in 40 years?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: [silence].

Me: If you have a pet and you treat it just like a member of your family, in fact, you treat it better than a member of your family, can you take it off your taxes as a dependent?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: No. Although I do sometimes get questioned about veterinary bills. You cannot deduct such bills for pets, but you can deduct such bills for show dogs, race animals and the like, treating it as a business expense.

L Me: Do TV anchormen get to deduct the suits they wear on TV?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: No. If it can be used as streetwear, it isn't a deduction.

Me: Didn't Liberace deduct what he wore?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Yes, he did. It was a court case, and Liberace won. But what he wore was deemed a theatrical costume not suitable for streetwear. Some of his costumes weighed 200 pounds with the sequins and beads.

Me: Can you tell me the No. 1 way to cheat on your taxes that the IRS will never catch in a million years?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: No.

L Me: If I get sent to prison, will I still have to pay taxes?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Yes. If you have earnings from a savings account or stocks or free-lance writing, for instance, you would have to pay taxes on it from prison.

Me: I hear if you want to squeeze out a few extra weeks beyond April 15, all you have to do is file your tax return and not sign it.

Domenic J. LaPonzina: No. An unsigned return is an unfiled return. If it is sent back to you for not having a signature and does not come back to the IRS by April 15 and you owe tax, there would be a failure-to-file penalty of 5 percent per month up to a 25 percent max, an additional failure-to-pay penalty of a half-percent a month up to a 6 percent max, then interest of 7 percent.

Me: Can I sign Sally Thorner's name to my tax return?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: No.

Me: Spell potato.

Domenic J. LaPonzina: P-o-t-a-t-o.

Me: Do most people cheat on their taxes?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Most people do not cheat on their taxes. Most people are wage earners and subject to withholding, and that fact alone, plus the increasing sophistication of this agency with years of financial investigation experience, prevents cheating.

A majority of taxpayers file year in and year out and do so honestly. We estimate nationally a total of 83 percent compliance. Compliance is filing and paying the right amount of tax.

Me: Do most people get money back or do most people pay money?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Three out of four taxpayers get a refund. The average refund this year is running around $1,050 on the federal return.

Me: If a plane crashes on the border between the United States and Canada, where do they bury the survivors?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: You don't bury survivors.

Me: Is it too late to tell people to file early?

Domenic J. LaPonzina: Yes. I'll be happy if they just file.

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