Baltimore Sun

Tax debt not a crime, but it’s not a good look. Mos­bys should pay up.

- Dan Ro­dricks Tax Credit · Taxes · Income Tax · Fraud · Business · White-collar Crime · Crime · Baltimore · United States of America · U.S. government · U.S. Internal Revenue Service · Council · Donald Trump · Facebook · Twitter · U.S. District Court · St. Mary, MO · College of Saint Mary · Social Security Administration · Sheila Dixon · Baltimore · Fenton, NY · Sirius/XM Satellite Radio · Greenbelt, MD · Transportation Security Administration

Af­ter the Sheila Dixon scan­dal and the Gun Trace Task Force scan­dal and the Cathy Pugh Healthy Holly scan­dal and the po­lice com­mis­sioner tax eva­sion scan­dal, Bal­ti­more­ans were re­lieved the other day when the word “in­dicted” did not appear in The Sun’s news re­port about the Mos­bys.

Marilyn and Nick owe back taxes to the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Oh.

The In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice is look­ing for $45,000 from the Bal­ti­more power cou­ple. Oh.

The IRS put a lien on their prop­er­ties. Oh.

So it’s not a crim­i­nal thing like the tax eva­sion charges that sent for­mer Bal­ti­more Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Dar­ryl De Sousa to fed­eral prison. The Bal­ti­more state’s at­tor­ney and her hus­band, a state del­e­gate and most likely the next Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil pres­i­dent, merely owe fed­eral taxes go­ing back five years.

And isn’t that a re­lief?

I re­al­ize the bar is set pretty low, but let’s be thank­ful the Mos­bys have merely been ex­posed as tax debtors and not tax cheats. Hey, that’s some­thing!

Years ago, on a hot sum­mer night out­side a bar on Be­lair Road, a wo­man was heard to un­wit­tingly speak an en­dur­ing and amus­ing truth about Bal­ti­more: “It’s not the heat, it’s the hu­mil­ity.”

By now, we have en­dured a long run of hu­mil­i­a­tions, and it’s kinda not funny any­more. Pride­ful residents and busi­ness own­ers are sick of it, sick of their city be­ing held back or dragged down by cor­rup­tion and stu­pid­ity, mak­ing head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons. Just as the na­tion suf­fers from Trump fa­tigue, af­ter nearly four years of chaos and in­com­pe­tence, Bal­ti­more­ans have had their fill of pub­lic scan­dals.

Key word there: pub­lic.

The only rea­son we know about the Mos­bys’ tax prob­lems is be­cause the IRS filed no­tice of the lien in Bal­ti­more City Cir­cuit Court. The IRS took that step be­cause it hasn’t been paid.

If not for re­porter Justin Fen­ton’s story, we would prob­a­bly never know about the Mos­bys’ debt. Plenty of Amer­i­cans work out pay­ment plans with the IRS, and there’s a whole in­dus­try built around that. (Recently, while paint­ing a room in my house and lis­ten­ing to CNN on Sir­ius ra­dio, I heard com­mer­cials for Op­tima Tax Re­lief al­most as often as I heard the one for the lit­tle blue pill.)

So, the Mos­bys owe the IRS $45,000. That’s not a scan­dal.

Is it a dis­grace? Some peo­ple have used that word in so­cial me­dia comments, and, like a lot of what you read on Face­book or Twit­ter, it’s hy­per­bole.

Debt is not a dis­grace. In Amer­ica, it’s a way of life.

The Mos­bys are hardly unique. Ac­cord­ing to the IRS, more than 13 mil­lion Amer­i­cans owed more than $125 bil­lion in back taxes, penal­ties, and in­ter­est in 2019.

There are many rea­sons for that. A lot of peo­ple can’t be both­ered. They get busy. They don’t take the IRS se­ri­ously and as­sume the agency won’t ever au­dit them. Some peo­ple don’t file their tax re­turns on time or at all, or they fail to give their ac­coun­tants the doc­u­ments they need to get

the re­turns com­pleted. Some peo­ple don’t pay their tax es­ti­mates, which means they face big bills in April. Some peo­ple in­cur fi­nan­cial hard­ship and can’t man­age the debt.

I’m not mak­ing ex­cuses for the Mos­bys, who have a com­bined annual in­come from their gov­ern­ment jobs of about $300,000.

Most peo­ple pay their taxes on time. They make life­style ad­just­ments when they face a big owe. With­draw­ing money early from a re­tire­ment ac­count, as Nick Mosby says he did, means you have to be pre­pared to pay the penal­ties for do­ing that. If you don’t and fall be­hind, that tells me you’re not a good plan­ner or maybe just sloppy. Or maybe you think you can slide by.

Af­ter more than 45 years in the news biz, I’m still amazed at what peo­ple think they can get away with, start­ing with not pay­ing taxes. They must think the IRS is so over­worked and un­der­staffed that its agents won’t ever get to them.

To­tally un­re­lated to the Mos­bys, but to my point: Just this week, in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, a judge sen­tenced a 64-year-old St. Mary’s County man named Vic­tor De­mat­tia to prison for steal­ing more than $400,000 from the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Civil Ser­vice Re­tire­ment Sys­tem. De­mat­tia never re­ported his mother’s death and re­ceived and spent her monthly re­tire­ment ben­e­fits for nine years be­fore fed­eral in­spec­tors caught him. Now he’s fac­ing 18 months in prison and owes the gov­ern­ment $409,421.

Back to the Mos­bys: Debt is not a crime. Nick Mosby says he hopes to soon re­solve the mat­ter with the IRS. His wife, mean­while, says she was un­aware of the lien, which strikes me as un­be­liev­able. The cou­ple owed thou­sands of dol­lars for three dif­fer­ent tax years, and she didn’t know the debt was still out­stand­ing?

Which gets us to the only rea­son why this mat­ters. When you’re in pub­lic life, when you seek and gain elected office, more is ex­pected of you. Hon­esty is ex­pected. In­tegrity is ex­pected. If you want to be a leader, you’re ex­pected to set good ex­am­ples of cit­i­zen­ship.

I re­al­ize that sounds pre­cious, but it needs to be said. No­body en­joys pay­ing taxes and every­body in­curs debt, but most peo­ple un­der­stand those things as obli­ga­tions, and taxes are an obli­ga­tion of cit­i­zen­ship.

Oh, and one more thing: Pub­lic of­fi­cials in bat­tered Bal­ti­more have an­other spe­cial obli­ga­tion — to spare us fur­ther hu­mil­i­a­tion.

 ?? KEVIN RICHARD­SON / BAL­TI­MORE SUN ?? State’s at­tor­ney Marilyn Mosby and Del. Nick Mosby at the 2019 Preak­ness on Satur­day, May 18.
KEVIN RICHARD­SON / BAL­TI­MORE SUN State’s at­tor­ney Marilyn Mosby and Del. Nick Mosby at the 2019 Preak­ness on Satur­day, May 18.
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