Monday, July 05, 2010
LOS ANGELES, July 6, 2010--Now that Forbes magazine, or its Website, has outed me as a tax creep, it's time to come clean about this and other tawdry affairs. Like love, fighting the tax snoops is a many-splendored thing, layer after layer of court showdowns over the years. Some say that somebody has to do it. The IRS and I are the irresistible force and the immovable object, although I'm not sure which is which.
In an enchanted place in a far-off land, many years ago, Tommy Eazor and I, like ships in the night, found ourselves in the same courtroom. This was Pittsburgh, in the 1970s. Eazor and I had originally met through the horse business. As the owner of a large trucking company, he could afford to go to the sales. I was writing as much about thoroughbred racing as I could, which really wasn't much, because Fort Pitt's only track was Del Miller's harness oval on the outskirts of town, and Art Rooney, owner of the Steelers, may have been the only serious horseplayer in town. Another columnist in Pittsburgh used to occasionally close his columns with "horses to watch but don't bet," which typified the town's interest in racing.
The feds were chasing Eazor for about $500,000 in allegedly unpaid taxes, and they were after me for $275. Tommy, tanned and well-scrubbed, sat in a pew with his three lawyers, the four of them looking like an ad for Brooks Brothers. I was there in shiny polyester, and had a fool for a lawyer.
I was just ahead of Eazor on the docket. The IRS flew in its attorney from Washington, D.C., and we met in a hallway before court convened. "You made me get up at 4 o'clock in the morning," he said, and I said, "You didn't have to be a lawyer."
My case was about unreimbursed business expense, and despite the judge's objection, I was allowed to read into the record about 40 newspaper expense accounts. The court reporter's recorder ran out of tape, causing a delay, and we didn't finish until well past the noon lunch break. The transcript ran 125 pages.
By mid-afternoon, my trial was over and in leaving the courtroom I walked by an impatient Eazor and his legal team. Eazor's lawyers had individual meters, and they had been running for hours and he hadn't even come before the judge yet. "Next time you want to call me for a horse story," he said, "save your dime." He seemed to be smiling. I never needed to call him again, to test whether he was smiling.
I don't even remember how my case turned out, and I can't tell you whether Eazor won or lost, either. Many years later, the IRS had picked up my scent again, this time in California, for another small amount, and this time they seemed interested in avoiding a trial. In the middle of negotiations, an IRS agent from Long Beach, whom I had never met or spoken to, made an unannounced visit to my home. I let her in, and invited her to take a chair in my home office. "This is my office at home," I said, making sure she knew where she was.
She sat there, saying nothing.
"Well," I said, "what can I do for you?"
"You could write me a check," she said.
"For the amount that you owe."
"Right now, I don't owe anything. This is being negotiated."
"I don't know anything about a negotiation."
"It's all in the file."
"I don't have a file."
I reached into a desk drawer and took out a manila folder, thick with correspondence and other documents.
"This is the file," I said.
"Let me take a look at it," she said.
"Sorry," I said. "You'll have to get your own file."
Then I asked for the phone number of her supervisor, preferably someone who could have her fired.
While I was on the phone to her Long Beach office, she started screaming at me. I held up the phone so the supervisor could hear.
After she left, with no file and no check, I called Long Beach back, demanding a letter of apology. None came. I wrote my Congresswoman, Jane Harman, with details of the encounter. In a few days, the letter of apology arrived.
I can't remember how that one turned out, either. There have been so many, and I don't feel like looking them up. I'm still standing, and that's what counts. Recently, Forbes decided that another of my rows with the IRS, from 2005, was worth a few hundred words. They wrote quite eloquently that I lost, although an appeal is one of my options. I wish Tommy Eazor were still alive. I'd send him a ticket for a front-row seat.