Congressional candidate Bill Orton bought a Mercedes Benz automobile in the early 1980s in Oregon, brought the car to Utah but failed to pay state sales tax on the car, Utah State Tax Commission documents show.
Orton, Democratic candidate in the 3rd District and a tax attorney by profession, was fined the amount of the sales tax, $1,200, and then was fined $1,320 in a "fraud penalty." Orton appealed but didn't pay the fine. Finally, the Tax Commission placed a lien on some of Orton's property to get the money. Orton paid the $3,577 in fines, penalties and interest earlier this year and continues to appeal the case.The lien and $3,577 payment have been reported before in the media, but the reason for the liens and fine wasn't revealed. This is the first time commission documents detailing the complaint have been reported. Orton contends the documents are confidential; the Tax Commission disagrees.
"This is just another attempt by the Snow campaign to muddy me up," Orton said. "I haven't spoken about Snow's problems, not a word. He wants to make me look as bad as he." Orton refers to his GOP opponent in the race, Karl Snow. Snow has been criticized by a number of people over his dealings with convicted penny stock manipulator Michael Strand.
Snow has been cleared in two investigations of any legal wrongdoing, and Snow has requested another investigation by the Republican Party. State Party Chairman Richard Snelgrove last week said that he probably would call such a panel. But Monday he declined, saying Snow is clean, clean, clean, and another panel would show just what the other two have. (See accompanying story).
While licensed to practice law in Utah, Orton makes most of his livelihood - about $250,000 last year, according to filings with the U.S. House - lecturing and conducting seminars on tax law. As such he travels extensively. In his written defense before the state Tax Commission on the sales-tax issue, he said that in 1984 he had residences in Oregon; Hawaii; Atlanta; Washington, D.C. and Provo.
He purchased a 1981 Mercedes Benz in Oregon and intended to use the car there. He had a Jeep and Corvette, both registered in Utah, for use here. However, sometime before 1984 he drove the Mercedes to Utah. Some Tax Commission employees saw the car driving around Salt Lake City with Oregon personalized plates that read "TAXLAW."
"We ask our employees to watch out for such things," said Janice Perry, commission spokeswoman. Orton has law offices at Exchange Place in downtown Salt Lake City. The car was photographed by commission investigators in 1984 sitting in an Exchange Place parking stall. Orton was ordered to appear before the commission on April 20, 1987. The commission wanted Orton to pay the sales tax on the car.
Oregon has no sales tax. Utah's sales tax is about 6 percent. The title on the car listed Orton's Provo address. After being notified by the Tax Commission of the complaint, Orton registered the car in Utah.
In his defense, Orton told commissioners that he did drive the car to Utah in 1984 but that seeing the car around town shouldn't be used to require sales tax payments two years after he leased, then purchased, the car in Oregon. A hearing officer ruled against Orton. He appealed. The commission, in a hearing in which Orton didn't appear, also ruled against him and assessed the fine and penalty. Orton continued his appeal.
"There is a legitimate appeal in progress," Orton said. "Many people have appeals with the commission. None of this should be made public during the appeal process."
Republican John Harmer, whom Snow beat in the Republican primary Sept. 11, also has appeals over taxes. Harmer also didn't approve of his tax problems being made public. The IRS said Harmer owed more than $300,000 in back taxes.
Orton's appeal doesn't concern back income taxes, just a sales tax on a car. However, until the latest documents were obtained by the Deseret News, the nature of Orton's contention with the commission wasn't clear.