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Tax penalty questions swirl in race for Ohio auditor

Posted at 1:42 PM, Oct 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 14:17:47-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Questions are swirling in the high stakes race for Ohio auditor about the candidates' handling of their personal tax payments.

At issue is a pattern of penalties for delinquent tax payments that Republican candidate Keith Faber and his businesses incurred between 2008 and 2015 across multiple properties, years and two counties.

Faber is among Ohio Republicans seeking to retain five open statewide offices for their ruling party as Democrats campaign hard to take them away. He faces former U.S. Rep. Zack Space, of Dover, in November.

Faber's bookkeeper has taken responsibility for the tardy tax payments, most of them late by just one to three days, and testified in a written affidavit that all but one was mailed on time based on her understanding of the law. Campaign spokeswoman Allie Dumski says Faber has since converted all accounts to auto-pay.

But the dust-up creates a political conundrum for Faber, the former Ohio Senate president, who's made attention to detail a campaign issue.

"The Auditor's office is the last place for someone who is sloppy and inaccurate in their work," his campaign said in June, in an attack over factual misstatements by Space. Faber has also criticized Space on other issues, including having his law license suspended because he failed to file the proper paperwork to inactivate it.

"Keith Faber and his business partners paid their property taxes on time and we have the cancelled checks to prove it," Dumski said in a statement. "Zack Space, on the other hand, has a well-documented history of failing to pay his own property taxes, getting his law license suspended, not renewing his driver's license and having his business cancelled by the state of Ohio for failing to file a required report."

Space, too, has two tax penalties in his past: Taxes on his residence were 43 days late in 2005; and taxes on a commercial property were three days late in 2008. Space's campaign, likewise, cited administrative errors.

Space's penalties further complicate matters for Faber, though. That's because Faber's campaign attacked Space over his track record of tax delinquency on a website and in briefly aired digital ads — even as Faber's own tax penalties were going unreported in the press.

Space's campaign spokesman, Nathan Cotton, calls that "shamelessly hypocritical."

"Keith Faber's chronic failure to pay his taxes on time completely disqualifies him from serving as Auditor of State, Ohio's top taxpayer watchdog," Cotton said in a statement. "Faber spent the last 17 years in the General Assembly using taxpayer money to advance his political career, while at the same time incurring dozens of penalties for failing to pay his own taxes on time."

According to county tax records reviewed by The Associated Press, Faber's tardy payments totaled about $5,500. Faber and his companies paid about $330 in penalties over that time, records show, some of which bookkeeper Jill Griesdorn said she rightfully could have challenged but didn't.

After questions from reporters, Faber took pains to investigate what went wrong.

His campaign produced a lengthy report featuring details of each penalty, Griesdorn's explanations, canceled checks, bank statements and copies of postmarked envelopes. The packet also included Griesdorn's affidavit and a letter from Faber's attorney.

Tax documents and Griesdorn's records show JMKA Properties Inc., in which Faber has a quarter ownership share, incurred tax penalties in tax years 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013. The property included three parcels that would all sustain the penalty even if only one was involved.

The 2014 taxes for a condo in downtown Columbus, owned by Faber's Statehouse Properties LLC, incurred a penalty in January 2015. Taxes on the Faber family home in Celina also were late once, in 2012. The penalty was later waived after being determined to involve an error at the county treasurer's office.

In her affidavit, Griesdorn said she "always deposited the checks in the mail on or before their respective due dates," which she understood to comply with state law.

She said Mercer County experiences "common and frustrating rural mail processing delays," noting the U.S. Postal Service recently began processing local mail through Toledo, Detroit or Columbus before delivering it back to local addresses.

Notwithstanding, Faber's own attorney, David Moser, wrote that operative state law bases tax payments' timeliness on the postmark, not the date they're mailed.

Tax collection agencies across the country warn that the post office "may not postmark mail on the same day deposited by a taxpayer." No such warning is readily visible on Mercer County's website.