BY JIM KENNEDY AND ERIKA BUTLER, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
5:23 PM EST, March 5, 2013
It could be several weeks before Bel Air Police are able to sift through all the paperwork seized from the Bel Air payroll firm AccuPay and, possibly, file charges against the company in a case that many say could have far-reaching effects on small businesses in Harford County and beyond.
AccuPay is accused in at least three lawsuits, and several claims in District Court, of failing to remit to the state and federal governments payroll tax withholdings to the IRS, and the Bel Air Police Department, which began its investigation last Wednesday, has received nearly a dozen complaints about the company.
As many as 10 complaints about the Bel Air-based payroll service firm AccuPay had come from across Maryland to the Bel Air Police Department, a detective said Friday evening after spending several hours at the business' offices at 206 E. Churchville Road in Bel Air, looking for "financial records, customer database and records of what was actually submitted versus records of what the customer was told was submitted," Det. Sgt. Jim Lockard said. "There's apparently a civil history with some extremely large numbers."
One of those suits was filed last Wednesday in Harford County Circuit Court by Wags Inc., doing business as Animal Emergency Hospital, which claims AccuPay failed to remit $89,194.53 to the state and federal governments as has been contracted. An hour after the suit was filed, Judge William O. Carr ordered the owners of AccuPay "shall preserve all documents and records, both electronic and paper records, relating to the operation of Accu-pay..."
Another suit was filed in Harford Circuit Court Friday, when several small claims, totaling nearly $40,000 were filed in Harford County District Court.
George S. Robinson IV, the attorney who handled a similar suit filed by DuClaw last summer, said AccuPay handled taxes for many local companies, and he's hearing from some of them. "It could have a tremendous … economic impact on the area, depending on how large the scope is," he said.
A Bel Air competitor said Friday that it has been swamped by AccuPay clients since the company — officially or not — closed its doors last week. George Heidelmaier, president of It's PayDay, said that "there's a lot of people who are going to get hurt" by the AccuPay fallout — and business owners don't know whom to rely on.
"One of the first questions out of people's mouths is, 'How do I know I can trust you?' " Heidelmaier said.
Police on the scene Friday worked out of a white utility truck marked as an incident command vehicle.
Officers were stopping people as they approached the AccuPay offices, which are in a converted house at 206 E. Churchville Road in Bel Air. They were in the house's garage, going through boxes of paper; the investigator handling the bulk of the material was wearing purple sanitary gloves.
Detectives are asking AccuPay clients to contact the IRS to confirm that their federal withholding taxes have been paid. Anyone who is a victim in the matter is asked to contact Lockard at email@example.com or 410-638-4500, or Det. Amy Bagley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-638-4500.
Earlier Friday, the Towson law firm Mark Van Bavel, P.A., filed a breach of contract suit in Harford County Circuit Court seeking damages totaling $30,000, according to the court filing.
The Van Bavel professional association claims in the suit it had retained AccuPay for payroll services to include remitting to the state and federal governments income tax and unemployment tax withholdings, the suit says.
"Accu-pay underreported and under remitted withholding tax from 2010 to the present time," the two-page lawsuit claims. It goes on to note that Van Bavel had received notice from the Internal Revenue Service that interest and penalties were owed.
The Wags and Van Bavel suits join a third active case that had been filed in July 2012 by the DuClaw Brewing Company claiming fraud and seeking more than $300,000 in damages.
DuClaw owner Dave Benfield said Friday that he discovered discrepancies in an internal audit, launched after one of his employees ran into an attorney working on a different case against AccuPay.
"It made me sick to my stomach," he said.
The IRS waived some, but not all, of the penalties and fees, he added.
Benfield said the payroll company owners "were driving very nice cars," including Jaguars and BMWs, and "had very nice houses."
In district court, Equine Architectural Products Inc. and Cambria Veterinary Center Inc., both in the 2700 block of Whiteford Road in Whiteford, filed claims of $29,452.79 and $10,008.07, respectively.
Their lawyer nor a company representative could not be reached for comment.
AccuPay twice forfeited its state certification to operate in Maryland — in 1991 and 2006 — for failing to file property returns, according to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records. In each case, the company was reinstated.
Its website, now offline, had earlier declared that the company delivered "peace of mind" to clients.
"If you process your own payroll, you owe it to yourself to see how AccuPay can save you time and expense, and free you from your payroll headaches," the company website said.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Jamie Smith Hopkins and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.