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IRS files tax lien against Berger cookies maker

Add the Internal Revenue Service to the list of Berger cookies' woes.

The IRS filed a notice of a nearly $109,000 tax lien against DeBaufre Bakeries — which makes the Baltimore treat — with the Baltimore City Circuit Court in February. Most of that amount was due in 2010, with smaller amounts due in 2009 and 2011, according to the court document.

The IRS also filed notices of an approximately $14,000 lien in September and a lien of about $26,000 in October, for tax periods in 2006, 2011 and 2012.

Telephone messages to DeBaufre Bakeries and its attorney were not returned Thursday.

It has been a rough year for the company. The Baltimore City Health Department temporarily closed the bakery Jan. 31 after discovering it had no city food-service license. And the bakery's owner, Charles DeBaufre Jr., has been hospitalized for more than a month.

The bakery, allowed to reopen, began delivering cookies again in early March.

The IRS filing acts as a public notice of an existing tax lien, or liability. Such notices allow the federal government to establish priority over other creditors, said Caroline D. Ciraolo, a partner in the tax practice of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP. But taxpayers can ask the IRS not to file publicly under special circumstances, she said.

The amount listed in the notice is due the IRS at the time of the filing. Taxpayers who can't pay in full can propose an installment agreement or work out partial payment plans, depending on the amount owed and the taxpayer's financial situation, Ciraolo said. Such plans would not be reflected in the lien notice. It also isn't updated to reflect any payments made since the filing.

Getting such a public notice "can be pretty devastating to a small business," and could trigger a default on a loan, result in a lower credit score or affect a company's ability to get government contracts, Ciraolo said.

"There could be any number of problems as a result," she said.

But, she added, "it certainly doesn't mean the business is a bad business or people shouldn't patronize that business. It simply means they have a tax issue to resolve."

Frank Cleveland, bakery manager at Santoni's Marketplace in Glyndon, said Thursday that the Berger cookies supply has been "no more consistent and no less consistent than it was before they closed."

"They've always had a, let's say, mercurial delivery system," he said.

That disappoints customers when it means no cookies on the shelves. But the product sells well when it's available, he said.

"It's just a really good cookie," Cleveland said. "It's iconic. There's nothing else like it. … It's just really kind of sad that it doesn't have a better economic footing. The finances should be there, but they're not. Clearly, if they've got IRS problems."

DeBaufre Bakeries traces the history of Berger cookies back to 1835, when the Berger family opened a bakery in East Baltimore. DeBaufre Bakeries, formed by another local family, bought the Berger business in 1969.

"We still maintain the same recipes, with some minor adjustments to adapt to the processing of raw ingredients, as in the 1800's," the company says on its website.

Nick Courtalis, an associate at Business & Commercial Ventures, a Lutherville firm that brokers the sale of small- to midsize businesses, expects that there would be interest in the bakery if its owner decides to sell.

"I would consider it a niche business, but there's always a market for a business that's been in business for so many years," he said. "It's a good product. It's consistent, and it's got a good name in the community."

The challenge is that buyers are more cautious than they were before the recession, he said. But he's seeing more deals now than he did a year ago.

"There's activity out there," Courtalis said.

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