One month after Democrat Bill Orton was elected to the U.S. Congress, the Utah State Tax Commission garnisheed his bank account for $1,368.16 in penalties and interest accrued on an outstanding tax debt.

The Deseret News contacted Janice Perry, spokeswoman for the tax commission, Thursday about the dispute. She confirmed that the agency garnisheed his bank account on Jan. 17 after Orton failed to respond to repeated requests to settle the debt.Orton called the situation an example of "where the government and bureaucracy does something you think isn't right" but fighting it takes more time and money than is at stake.

Orton also charged Utah County Republicans with grasping at straws and reverting to heavy-handed tactics in an attempt to discredit him by spreading rumors about the matter.

Orton still disputes the penalty and said he hasn't decided whether to pursue the matter by suing the commission in the Utah Supreme Court.Orton's problems with the tax commission were aired in October and November during his campaign for Congress. Orton bought a Mercedes-Benz automobile in Oregon, which does not have a sales tax, in the early 1980s and later brought the vehicle to Utah.

In a decision dated March 7, 1989, the tax commission found that "titling and registration of the vehicle in Oregon by the petitioner was an attempt to fraudulently evade Utah taxes."

The commission assessed $1,200 in sales tax and a $1,320 fraud penalty plus interest against Orton. Orton appealed the fine. His appeal was rejected.

Orton paid the sales tax and interest accrued on the tax on Aug. 17, 1990. Orton said the tax commission told him he could pay that sum and then ask that the penalty be abated, which would kick-start an appeal period.

He says he learned just before the November election that the commission considered his appeal period closed and that his only remaining option was to file suit against the commission.

The tax commission sent a notice and demand for payment of the remaining debt to Orton's Salt Lake law office on Nov. 16, according to Perry. On Nov. 27, after receiving no response, the commission sent a certified letter to him indicating that unless he settled the debt by Dec. 7, 1990, it would consider pursuing legal action against him. A receptionist at his office signed a receipt acknowledging delivery of the letter.

Again, the commission received no response from Orton. On Dec. 10, 1990, Neal Jackson, supervisor of the collections division, and Gary Nuffer, assistant director, reviewed the case and agreed that one final attempt should be made to contact Orton, according to court documents.

Perry said a representative of the commission telephoned Orton's law office but was told he was not available.

Orton told the Deseret News he did telephone the tax commission around the end of November and informed a representative there he was hiring a Salt Lake law firm to represent him in pursuing an appeal.

Orton traveled extensively around the country between November and January teaching tax seminars he had previously scheduled. He also traveled to Washington to attend orientation seminars for new congressmen.

On Dec. 13 the commission filed a writ of garnishment and an interrogatory in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake County. Orton was served with the writ the next day, according to Perry. On Jan. 3, 1991, the court approved the final garnishment order.

On Jan. 17 funds were withdrawn from Orton's bank account to cover the debt.

"The case is now closed," Perry said.

Orton says that is highly unlikely.

"I could stay in Congress 20 years and people would still keep bringing this up," he said. "This is what's discouraging about politics."