Comptroller adds 50 people, businesses to tax scofflaws list

Individuals and businesses owe more than $11 million

March 08, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

The next time your car rattles when riding over potholes or your library is closed when you want to peruse the stacks, thank the tax scofflaws, says Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

The comptroller's office of compliance has identified 25 individuals and 25 businesses to highlight on its annual "Caught in the Web" list, published Tuesday on Together, these 50 owe more than $11 million in state taxes, penalties and interest.

And that money is only a fraction of the hundreds of millions in delinquent taxes Franchot said is owed to the state. But the comptroller's office singled out these 50 people and companies because state officials say they have exhausted their legal means to compel these individuals to pay, such as garnishing wages and intercepting state and federal tax refunds.

Some of the scofflaws are able to pay what they owe, Franchot said.

He pointed to Jacques R. and Marlene B. Rubin of Palm Beach, Fla., who top this year's list with an unpaid tax bill of nearly $4.6 million. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"These folks are down in Florida, enjoying the nice weather, watching the sunset and having a cocktail, while people in Maryland are struggling with library cutbacks and school cutbacks and potholes in the road," Franchot said. "They owe over four and a half million in taxes, and they clearly have the ability to pay it."

According to Florida tax records, Jacques R. and Marlene B. Rubin of Owings Mills purchased their 3,100 square foot condominium in 2002 for $2 million. It was assessed in 2010 at $1.1 million.

Sharonne Bonardi, the director of the comptroller's office of compliance, said the state filed a lien for $3.9 million against Marlene Rubin in 2008. She and Franchot could not comment specifically on what led to this tax bill, but it could have been a stock transaction or the sale of a home or business.

In 2001, Lifebridge Health honored Jacques and Marlene Rubin of Owings Mills for their $4 million donation by naming the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital after them.

A Lifebridge Health spokesman said they had no knowledge of the Rubins' tax status. However, "we are grateful for their multimillion-dollar donation in the past," said Noel Lloyd, a communications coordinator for Lifebridge.

Lisa Lester, a spokeswoman for the comptroller's office, said the Rubins' charitable contributions are commendable. However, "we would just like them to pay their fair share, like so many other Marylanders do," she said.

"There are lots of people who have difficulty paying taxes in the state," Franchot said. "We have no interest in embarrassing or harassing them if they show the least bit of good faith."

Some companies went bankrupt or transferred assets to some other business, according to the comptroller. His office can also assess the personal assets of the companies' officers, he said. "This is not news to anybody on this list that they owe us money," he said.

But criminal prosecution is not an option. "I'm a sheriff without a jail," Franchot said.

Many of the companies on the scofflaw list owe withholding, or payroll taxes, or sales and use taxes, like R B Stine Inc.

Jeff Burns, general manager of the Frederick County construction company, said the economy made paying more than $460,000 in payroll taxes difficult.

"We have every intention of paying this," he said. "We just need some extra time to get it done."

The company hired a new financial services company to mediate the problem, Burns said. But they are owed money for completed projects or others on hold, and the market for new construction has dried up.

"For 10 years, the state got all their money, and then we hit the bad economy and this has kind of spiraled out of control," Burns said.

He said that state officials offered a payment plan that the company couldn't afford. Lester, the comptroller's spokeswoman, said that was not accurate.

Despite the disputes, being highlighted on the list often drives people to pay up, Franchot said. The comptroller's office has collected nearly $26 million in back taxes from 587 delinquent taxpayers since "Caught in the Web" started in 2000.

"This is the hard core," Franchot said. "But even the hard core can get a red face."

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