By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Like 96,413 other Floridians, Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott were hit last year with a lien for unpaid taxes by the state Department of Revenue.
Unlike most other taxpayers, however, the Scotts’ tax warrant was voluntarily withdrawn, and the lien released, by state revenue officials one week after it was recorded with the court clerk.
The lien, filed at the Collier County Courthouse in the Scotts’ hometown of Naples, demanded $421.64 to cover interest and fees regarding delinquent intangible taxes that the lien document indicates were imposed following an audit. It was withdrawn on Feb. 11, 2013.
“The department has now determined this warrant was filed in error,” the document says.
The Department of Revenue administers a variety of taxes, including the collection of the intangible tax that was largely repealed in 2007. Department spokeswoman Renee Watters said nine warrants seeking payment of delinquent intangible taxes were filed last year, and that one was voluntarily withdrawn due to error – the governor’s.
Department officials declined a public records request seeking access to its file on the matter, citing the confidentiality of taxpayer records.
Watters, however, offered some additional information about what happened. She said tax warrants are signed through an automated processing system, and not individually by hand. She said the Scotts’ warrant was signed by general tax administration program Director Maria Johnson and that Ben Azu, manager of the department’s Naples service center, signed the release of lien.
“The warrant was withdrawn because we made a payment processing error,” said Watters. “Payment had been timely, but there was a lag in the deposit of the payment that made it appear that it was late and therefore, $421.64 interest was improperly charged.”
Azu declined comment.
The governor’s office said Gov. Scott spoke to no one at the Department of Revenue about the tax warrant before it was withdrawn.
“The governor’s office was not aware of DOR’s error, or the work to correct DOR’s error. The matter was handled by private counsel at the time, and DOR corrected its error,” said spokesman John Tupps.
Florida law allows taxpayers to authorize the department to divulge specific information about their account. But the governor, through his office, declined a request by BrowardBulldog.org that he authorize the disclosure of records regarding the issuance and withdrawal of the tax warrant.
The governor’s private counsel, named in the tax lien, was Cummings & Lockwood, a law firm with offices in Connecticut and Florida, including Naples.
The firm’s chairman and managing director is Jonathan B. Mills. He did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Why the Scotts’ were assessed intangible tax is not known. Florida’s intangible tax on personal property such as stocks and bonds was repealed on Jan. 1, 2007. The repeal, however, did not include a nonrecurring assessment levied on taxpayers who lend money secured by a mortgage on Florida property.
At the time the lien was filed and withdrawn last year, the top job at the Department of Revenue was up for grabs. Among numerous applicants was interim executive director Marshall Stranburg.
Gov. Scott and the three elected Cabinet members named Stranburg as the department’s full-time executive director on April 23, 2013.
Through a spokeswoman, Stranburg was asked whether the governor or a representative of the governor contacted him about the tax lien.
Stranburg did not respond.