With tax season in the air, tax evaders have been on ThinkAdvisor’s mind. First we thought about the worst tax scams of 2013, and that got us thinking more broadly about politicians and other public servants.
Kwame Kilpatrick, the former of mayor of Detroit, ran into a boatload of trouble and faced charges including not paying his taxes. Other public servants, of course, have run into similar problems.
From a vice president (Spiro Agnew) to a sitting federal judge (Harry Claiborne) to a powerful U.S. representative (Charles Rangel), some apparently couldn’t avoid the temptation to line their pockets by cheating the IRS.
Still, the public can be forgiving, and some on our list managed to win re-election.
(Check out Top 9 Biggest Tax Scams of 2013 on ThinkAdvisor.)
Here are our 8 Public Servants Nailed for Tax Evasion.
1. Spiro Agnew, U.S. Vice President, 1969-73
Spiro Agnew was a lightning rod for controversy during his tenure in the Nixon administration. His hectoring of the left and the press with memorable phrases like “nattering nabobs of negativity” helped frame the upheaval over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Supporters on the right, like speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, viewed Agnew as courageous, while those on the other end of the spectrum had a less favorable opinion.
In the end, scandal forced him to resign in a precursor to Watergate, which had not exploded onto the national scene. Agnew contended he was forced to resign by Nixon aides amidst an investigation into his activities while governor of Maryland in the mid-1960s. He discounted the 40 pages it took to lay out the bribery and tax charges against him. His downfall was capped by a plea of nolo contendere to one count of tax evasion for failing to report $29,000 of income in 1967. If he had managed to hang on to his job, he would have been in line to take over the presidency less than a year later when Richard Nixon resigned.
2. Harry Claiborne, Federal Judge, 1979-86
You might think that a judge would know better than to fail to pay his income taxes. Claiborne, appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, was convicted of not paying $107,000 he owed the IRS on his 1979 and 1980 tax returns.
For his crimes, he became just the seventh federal official to lose his job through impeachment. He was also the first federal judge sent to prison, receiving a sentence of two years; he served 17 months. He maintained he had done nothing wrong and that someday the truth would come out. Maybe his work as a trial lawyer and hobnobbing with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin swelled his head. Whatever the case, Claiborne’s career was in tatters and he committed suicide in 2004 while suffering from a number of ailments.
3. Randall ‘Duke’ Cunningham, U.S. Representative, 1991-2005
The California Republican’s exploits as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War helped win him eight terms in the House, where he took an interest in military affairs and espoused socially conservative positions. Sometimes his outbursts, like the time he said those fighting him “were the same ones who would put homos in the military,” drew attention. But what really put him in the national spotlight were charges of accepting bribes from defense firms to ensure they received government contracts. The bribes were considered the largest known to be accepted by a member of Congress and included a house, a Rolls-Royce and other perks.
Eventually, Cunningham was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in 2006 (he was released early last summer because of good behavior). He also was ordered to pay $1.8 million in back taxes and forfeit $1.85 million in bribes. The proceeds of the sale of a home were also turned over the government. Upon his release, Cunningham said he planned to write books and live near his mother in Arkansas or in Florida.