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Tax official in Maryland admits evasion

The former deputy tax collector for Maryland pleaded guilty to state tax evasion yesterday and was sentenced to probation and paying his taxes.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams ordered J. Basil Wisner, 58, to pay a $5,000 fine and more than $27,000 in back income, amusement and sales taxes, interest and penalties.

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The judge gave him three concurrent five-year sentences -- one for each misdemeanor tax charge -- but suspended all of them. He instead ordered the Hampstead resident to serve three years of supervised probation.

"Obviously, we hope to send a message that not only does the average citizen have to pay his taxes, but the tax man does, too," Assistant State Prosecutor A. Thomas Krehely Jr. said.

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The judge agreed, denying Mr. Wisner's request for a lighter penalty of probation before judgment. "For the second highest tax official not to receive an appropriate penalty . . . would not send an appropriate message to the taxpayers of this state," he said.

Some of the charges stem from Mr. Wisner's attempt to disguise purchases of land, cars and tractors as legitimate business expenses for the bowling alley he manages and partly owns in Carroll County.

Prosecutor Krehely said he did not recommend prison time because the statute of limitations had expired on some of the charges, because Mr. Wisner cooperated with investigators and because he did not use his position in the comptroller's office "to facilitate the tax evasion."

As part of the plea bargain, Mr. Wisner resigned in October as deputy to Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein. He spent 36 years in the comptroller's office, the last 20 as second-in-command.

"We thought it was important to get him out of office and to make a full disclosure to the public of all of the tax fraud," Mr. Krehely said.

Mr. Wisner cheated on the income and sales taxes of Hampstead Bowling Center Inc. during different times from 1985 through last year, according to a statement of facts agreed upon by both sides.

He bought vehicles and land for his personal use but recorded them on the alley's books as purchases of machine parts, insurance, equipment and maintenance. In so doing, he made the purchases look like business expenses and claimed tax deductions for them from 1989 through 1993.

The personal expenses included $600 for a 1951 Chevrolet, $3,500 for land in West Virginia, $3,150 for a 1970 Ford Ranchero, $3,007 for 1977 Mercedes-Benz, and $3,500 for a 1988 Chevrolet truck, according to the statement.

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Mr. Wisner also bought a horse trailer, a 1975 Corvette, an antique Allis-Chalmers farm tractor, a Ferguson tractor with a front loader, a car trailer, a trailer hitch, a 1964 Studebaker and a riding mower. He also disguised the costs of getting his house painted and his personal vehicles repaired as business expenses.

Mr. Wisner used those ruses to avoid paying the state $8,320 in income taxes. To avoid paying an additional $14,147 in sales taxes, he understated the alley's sales of food, beverages and shoes, along with shoe rentals, by 90 percent from November 1985 through August 1993.

Although he was not charged with it, Mr. Wisner also failed to file admission and amusement tax returns during the same period. He has agreed to pay $4,736 in back taxes.

His lawyer, state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County, told the judge that "my client has led an exemplary life" until "this incident."

"It's been a great humiliation to him," Mr. Boozer said.

He said Mr. Wisner worked long hours for the state while trying to run the business.

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"I just wanted to get it over with," Mr. Wisner said of his day in court.


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