Firm working on anti-smoking ads pays taxes

Its place on campaign uncertain

still must pay $2,400 to restore charter

July 23, 2002|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A company involved in the state's new $14 million "Smoking Stops Here" advertising campaign paid $4,300 in back state taxes yesterday as a step toward getting its corporate charter restored.

However, it is uncertain whether Twenty-First Century Group Inc. will remain part of a team running the 17-month anti-smoking advertising campaign.

Roger Gray, president and chief executive of GKV Communications, the prime contractor, said he is reviewing Twenty-First Century Group's role as a subcontractor.

He said he has asked Adrian Harpool, chief executive of the minority-owned firm, for documents relating to the company's tax debts and its status to do business in Maryland.

"Once I get all the documentation, I'll review it over the next couple of days and then we will make an informed decision as to whether we want to continue with this relationship," Gray said. "There are a lot of very good MBEs [minority business enterprises] in the state of Maryland who can help us with this contract if we need to look for alternative resources."

The advertising contract requires that 25 percent of the money be spent with minority-owned businesses.

The Sun reported yesterday that Twenty-First Century had lost its charter in October - three months before the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene awarded the advertising contract to the group headed by GKV Communications.

Harpool said he knew nothing of that until a reporter contacted him about it Friday. He said he spent most of yesterday working to resolve the tax debts that cost his company its charter.

"This is obviously embarrassing, but we're glad to have found out about it," Harpool said. "We want to be properly certified."

The Maryland comptroller's officer confirmed that Harpool paid $4,300 in withholding taxes that the company owed from 1999.

However, Harpool said the charter will not be restored until the company pays about $2,400 in unemployment taxes from 2000 and last year. The company expects to settle that promptly and to get its charter restored by late today, he said.

Harpool said Friday that he did not get any notices from the state that the company's charter had been forfeited for failing to pay its taxes.

He said his business, now at 7 E. Redwood St., has moved twice since it was launched in 1996 and speculated that notices might have been sent to one of the company's previous addresses by mistake.

In Maryland, companies are prohibited from doing business with the state if they are not paid up on their state taxes. However, state officials say they check the status only of prime contractors, not subcontractors.

Gray said that GKV had no reason to believe anything was amiss with Twenty-First Century Group's status to do business in Maryland because it was on a list of minority business enterprises certified by the state.

He noted that the state recertified Harpool's company as a qualified minority business enterprise Nov. 28 - more than a month after its charter had been forfeited.

Harpool said he hopes that his company continues to be part of the campaign.

"This doesn't speak to our capability," he said. "It's a clerical and accounting issue."

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