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What should Baltimore make of the Mosbys’ latest tax lien? | COMMENTARY

The IRS placed a $45,000 lien on property owned by Baltimore power couple Nick Mosby, a state delegate and the Democratic nominee to the City Council presidency, and his wife, Marilyn Mosby, the city’s state’s attorney since 2015.
The IRS placed a $45,000 lien on property owned by Baltimore power couple Nick Mosby, a state delegate and the Democratic nominee to the City Council presidency, and his wife, Marilyn Mosby, the city’s state’s attorney since 2015. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

What are we to make of the $45,000 lien the IRS placed on property owned by Baltimore power couple Nick Mosby, a state delegate and the Democratic nominee to the City Council presidency, and his wife, Marilyn Mosby, the city’s state’s attorney since 2015? The Mosbys, at least initially, didn’t give us much to work with in the way of details.

Notice of the lien, which seeks to collect three-years-worth of unpaid federal taxes, was filed in February in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Yet Ms. Mosby, who is paid $242,000 of other people’s tax dollars annually, told Sun reporter Justin Fenton on Tuesday that she wasn’t aware the federal government had placed the lien. And Mr. Mosby cryptically told reporter Tim Prudente that the whole matter was related to tax consequences of an early withdrawal from his retirement savings plan, which he undertook to “support unplanned expenses after a series of family tragedies.”

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We understand that families fall on hard times, and sometimes one spouse might not tell the other about their spending issues (if that’s what happened here). But as public figures paid in public dollars — and with one of them actively campaigning to lead the City Council and earn a salary of $119,000 paid by residents' taxes — the Mosbys owe us all a little more transparency about what’s going on here.

Mr. Mosby acknowledged as much to the board in a series of text messages Wednesday.

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“As an elected official,” he wrote, “I understand that I have a greater responsibility to be a good citizen and steward of the public’s trust. I understand that this type of personal examination comes with the territory. This matter will be resolved in the coming days.”

The Internal Revenue Service says the couple failed to pay certain taxes in 2014, 2015 and 2016, adding up to $45,000 and leading to the lien. “We have made a demand for payment of this liability, but it remains unpaid,” the IRS court filing claims, using language standard in such cases. “Therefore, there is a lien in favor of the United States on all property and rights to property belonging to the taxpayer.”

It’s at least the second time the Mosbys have faced a tax lien: They were hit with a $5,000 state tax lien in 2013, which they paid off within two months. Mr. Mosby told the board that one was related to “an untaxed buyout from a former employee.”

He took full responsibility for the current situation, texting that “the matter is entirely on me and not my wife” and said his taxes are prepared by a professional accountant every year and that he indeed pays some portion of the bill due. He said there was a plan in place to resolve this issue before The Sun reported it, which he suspects “had some influence on the tip and timing to the media.”

“The entire process has been extremely cumbersome and exhausting,” he wrote. “I have personally worked with the IRS and also retained representatives to assist. That has resulted in multiple arrangements that for a number of reasons have changed or been cancelled. One example, was the cancelation of an agreement because of a miscalculation by the IRS.”

You may remember that former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison last year for failing to file three-years-worth of tax returns (2013, 2014 and 2015), much less pay the $68,000 he owed. We’re not suggesting the Mosbys did anything criminal. But not paying their taxes in full or successfully arranging for a payment plan before the scenario reaches the lien stage certainly raises questions about their judgment and attention to important matters. And we still don’t know the specifics.

Ms. Mosby already faced heavy criticism this summer following the publication of a Baltimore Brew story that showed she accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of travel from outside organizations and incorporated three businesses while in office that she failed to disclose on her 2019 ethics form. The businesses, coincidentally, are travel companies.

In an unusual move, Ms. Mosby asked the Baltimore Inspector General’s Office to investigate her financial disclosures and travel, ostensibly to clear up the confusion and suspicion surrounding them. City residents “have endured far too many corruption scandals and need to know what is and is not illegal,” Ms. Mosby wrote in a letter to Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.

We heartily agree. And we respectfully suggest that, should another circumstance arise in which the propriety of the couple’s actions be called into question, that they seek to provide as much detail and transparency as possible from the get-go. An investigation is one way to settle the matter, and we expect the one Ms. Mosby asked for will do just that when it concludes, but being open and forthright is another.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office denied a public records request by The Sun for details that Ms. Mosby keeps on government computers about her travel businesses, claiming unconvincingly that the investigation prevents their release. The office further tried to charge Fox45 $156,000 for a copy of Ms. Mosby’s work calendar, according to the news station. With that kind of cash, the state’s attorney’s office could pay the Mosby’s tax tab three times over — with change.

This is not the way public bodies and officials should respond to reasonable requests for information. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no reason to be evasive.

That’s the take-away.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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