Two Gubernatorial Candidates Owe Back Taxes

Joe Visconti and Martha Dean

Republican gubernatorial candidates Joe Visconti and Martha Dean owe back taxes, a Government Watch examination of public records shows. (Rick Hartford) (Rick Hartford / Hartford Courant / April 11, 2014)

They want to take charge of the state government and its $22 billion annual budget, but they haven't been able to pay some of their own personal bills — including state or federal taxes.

That's true of two of the seven candidates for governor in the November election, a Government Watch examination of public records shows:

Republican candidate Martha Dean, one of six contenders for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, has two federal tax liens on her Avon home, filed in late 2011 when she owed the IRS $181,100.

Joe Visconti of West Hartford, one of her rivals for the state GOP's gubernatorial nomination in the November election, has liens for more than $80,000 on his West Hartford home including a state tax lien for $4,064 that he has owed the Department of Revenue Services since 2007.

Dean and Visconti, both long shots in this year's race for the GOP nomination, attributed their financial problems to divorce ordeals.

But even state Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, one of the party's main contenders to challenge Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in November, had tax problems of his own in the past. From 1997 to 2005, the town of Fairfield placed six liens on the home he lived in at the time – in amounts ranging from $1,612 to $14,434 – for failing to pay his local property taxes on time, records show.

"I had a responsibility to pay on time. I did not make timely payments on several occasions," McKinney said Friday when asked about the past tax liens. "Obviously I have corrected those [problems]."

Asked why he repeatedly didn't pay on time, McKinney said: "Without going back and trying to reconstruct the past, the reasons are not relevant. Regardless of the reasons, I didn't meet my responsibility on several occasions and I hold myself responsible."

What would he say to a voter who might reject him because of this? "I would say that's a fair question. ... I would answer the question directly [and say] 'It's a mistake I made, and I hold myself accountable for that.' I would ask the person not to be judged by a mistake, but on the body of my whole life's work and, maybe more importantly, my vision for how to turn the state around in the future."

McKinney also had a $10,044 federal tax lien filed against him when he lived in West Hartford in 1996 attending UConn Law School. He said it was the result of "discrepancy" between the calculations of the IRS and him, and was resolved.

Checks of the backgrounds of the other four candidates for governor turned up no such liens for significant debts. They include Malloy, the Democrat who is seeking election to a second term, and the other three Republicans: Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee who lost narrowly to Malloy and is widely considered this year's front-runner; Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti.

When someone incurs a debt, a creditor can file a lien in local land records to document a claim against the debtor's property. The amount of the debt is listed in the lien and, in general, it must be paid before the property is sold. A federal tax lien is more serious than one filed on a property by an individual; the federal government can seize a person's property to satisfy a tax debt.

Dean's Liens

Dean said in an interview Thursday that she fell behind in her federal income taxes because she was "dragged through eight years of custody litigation" with her first husband, from whom she is divorced, from 2004 to 2012. She paid more than $600,000 in the custody proceedings, she said, adding that she lost hundreds of thousands more for hours she was involved in the custody case and couldn't work as a lawyer.

Dean, an attorney, said she earns a "very good" living from her law practice but, when the custody proceedings "flared up," she couldn't keep up with the costs — including attorneys, expert witnesses and a court-required "guardian ad litem," who is appointed to represent the interests of a minor child during disputes between parents.

Her tax debt grew to $181,100 by late 2011, when the IRS filed liens in the amounts of $118,199 for 2009 and $62,901 for 2010. Those liens are still on record in Avon Town Hall, and Dean said that she has entered an agreement with the IRS under which she is paying off the debt over time. She declined to give details, although she said she managed to pay off an extra $30,000 in the past year — putting her overall indebtedness at about $150,000 now.

"I believe in being paid up with the IRS," said Dean, but to pay off the debt would have required selling her house — and she now has "primary custody" of her son, now 16, who lives with her most of the time. "I told the IRS that to rip the house where he lives out from under him is something that I shouldn't be doing," adding that IRS went along with that.

Dean said that it's been a "tough and humiliating thing" for a person who believes so much in paying as she goes that she chooses not to have credit cards. "I'll pay every penny," she said, adding that since the custody case ended, her small law office is again thriving. She practices environmental and constitutional law, and, as a strong advocate for gun rights, she represents shooting ranges when they're faced with legal problems.

Asked how her debt to the IRS might affect her political chances this year, Dean said that her ordeal has helped her to "understand what everyone else is going through" in a family court system that "really encourages disputes [and] needs to be fixed."

The court system imposes costs on parties in custody disputes such as hiring expert witnesses who charge a lot — but whom a parent can't afford not to retain — as well as the costly court-appointed guardians. She drew an analogy between a parent who's "forced into debt" by the family court system and a taxpayer who's forced to pay the debts of a spendthrift political administration that "throws money at problems."

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