Maryland's tax collectors have known about Dolores E. Scott for years.
To them, the Owings Mills nurse is a renowned scofflaw, one of a small group of Maryland tax protesters that keeps the state comptroller's criminal investigation unit in business. They, and the Internal Revenue Service, have haggled with the 61-year-old - who they say owes $21,000 in back income taxes - for more than a decade.
But Scott's most recent protest, the comptroller's and attorney general's offices say, went too far. And this week, a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge agreed with them.
After years of arguing that she is not a citizen subject to income taxation because she is descended from slaves, Scott is in jail for her tax-evasive actions. Judge Patrick Cavanaugh sentenced her to four months' incarceration Wednesday for what he called "the most blatant" forgeries he had ever seen - fake court orders Scott sent to her employer in April last year, lifting garnishments the comptroller's office had placed on her wages.
Scott will also have to pay restitution of more than $4,000 to the comptroller's office.
The attorney general's office, which prosecutes the worst cases of willful tax evasion, asked for the jail sentence.
"In white-collar crime, the concept of deterrence is still quite valid," said Carolyn Henneman, the chief of the attorney general's criminal investigations division. "The white-collar criminal is a thinking man or woman - they are more likely to weigh the pros and cons of taking a chance like this."
This year, Scott pleaded guilty to the forgeries, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, but asked that the court not incarcerate her.
"Ms. Dolores Scott's actions in this case are directly linked to her decades-old medical condition and job stress rather than the actions of a calculating criminal," her lawyer Malik Z. Shabazz wrote in a motion asking for leniency in sentencing. "Ms. Scott's behavior is more aptly characterized as the bizarre behavior of an ill woman under stress and anxiety."
Shabazz and Scott produced dozens of pages of medical reports to support her claim that she suffers from anxiety and depression. But the judge said he suspected they were forgeries as well.
In January last year, the state started taking money from Scott's paycheck to try to recoup the thousands of dollars the woman owed in back taxes. Henneman said the comptroller's office had decided it needed to get a court order for such a garnishment rather than try to reason with Scott because of the woman's history of "noncooperation with government officials."
In 1991, Scott pleaded guilty to threatening the life of the federal revenue officer assigned to her case, and was sentenced to three years' probation. About the same time, she filed a lawsuit against the Maryland comptroller's office, arguing that as an African-American and descendant of slaves, the state owed her reparations, and that because of her heritage she should not be taxed.
That case was rejected by the lower courts and, in 1995, by the Court of Special Appeals, which explained that Scott was covered by the 14th Amendment, a citizen of the United States, and subject to income taxes.
These types of disputes are not unusual, said Linda Tanton, director of the compliance division in the comptroller's office.
"You always have a cadre of taxpayers who think they should not have to pay taxes," she said. "We are always dealing with a smallish number of them."
But she said Scott's next move was surprising.
According to court papers, Scott faxed her employer, Comprehensive Nursing, a "court order" lifting the garnishment. The nursing agency stopped withholding money from Scott's paycheck, until the comptroller's office asked why. Comprehensive Nursing showed it the faxed "court order," which had "From Scott Residence" printed at the top of the page.
"We've never seen that before," Tanton said.
The comptroller's office reinstated the garnishment, and within weeks Scott had forged another court order lifting it, according to court papers. That's when the comptroller's office asked the attorney general's office to step in.
"Even though she's been a scofflaw for 12 years, they've never asked us to prosecute," Henneman said. "They just tried through the civil process to get her to pay. It wasn't until she forged court orders that they threw up their hands."
Two others were convicted and sentenced recently for tax evasion.
Bernard Philip Herring, 62, who owns the Frederick Diner in Frederick, was put on probation last week for not paying the sales tax he collected from customers. Antoinette Dargan, 38, of Baltimore was convicted of tax perjury this month and also put on probation.
Tanton said it is coincidental that these sentencings occurred near the April 15 tax filing deadline.