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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lamar Willis' latest headache

click to enlarge Lamar Willis
  • Lamar Willis

Last Monday, the AJC reported that Atlanta Councilman H. Lamar Willis owed the state about $44,000 in back taxes and fines.

Today, Secretary of State Karen Handel sent out a notice alerting the press that Willis has been hit with a $25,000 fine by a Fulton Superior Court judge for misrepresenting his scholarship foundation as a nonprofit charity when it was not.

I'm guessing none of this is going to help Willis get reelected next month.

You may recall that, two years ago, an AJC investigation indicated a number of financial improprieties on Willis' part, many of them centered on his foundation. If the article's allegations were correct, Council observers mused at the time, then Willis could end up being charged with tax fraud by the feds.

Well, the feds have remained silent, but not so the state. Last year, both Handel's office and Attorney General Thurbert Baker filed suit, charging that "Willis never obtained IRS approval for his foundation as a charitable organization." The $25,000 fine, imposed by Fulton Chief Judge Doris Downs last Wednesday, stems from that action.

Also today came a copy of a letter sent to both Handel's office and the Atlanta municipal clerk's office asking that they review whether Willis should be dropped from the Nov. 3 ballot for potentially having filed an inaccurate affidavit.

I don't know if Willis' challenger is behind the letter and, frankly, it shouldn't matter. The only question is, did he violate election law? Every seeker of municipal office in Georgia must swear that he isn't behind on his taxes. To be honest, it's somewhat more complicated than that; here's the actual language:

I am not a defaulter for any federal, state, county, municipal, or school system taxes required of such officeholder or candidate if such person has been finally adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to owe those taxes, but such ineligibility may be removed at any time by full payment thereof, or by making payments to the tax authority pursuant to a payment plan, or under such other conditions as the General Assembly may provide by general law…

What's all that mean? Well, where Willis is concerned, it could mean he's OK to run if he's currently subject to an authorized payment plan. Last week's AJC story indicates that Willis has had his wages garnished for a year now, which probably meets that qualification.

I wouldn't be surprised if we hear something from Handel's office again tomorrow.

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