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Senators Hansen, Russell Pursued for Unpaid Taxes

Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Ronald Russell, sponsors of a bill to eliminate tax clearance letters as a requirement for renewing a business license, have V.I. Internal Revenue Bureau tax liens registered against them for a combined total of more than $250,000 in back taxes, public documents show.

Tax records themselves are generally confidential. However, when a tax-collecting agency places a lien against a person to collect those taxes, that lien and the amount alleged to be due are recorded with the Office of the Recorder of Deeds within the V.I. Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

An online search of V.I. land records at the Recorder of Deeds turned up liens against Russell and Hansen and a follow-up visit to the office confirmed neither lien has been released by IRB.

Hansen owes the most, according to IRB, with $183,000 in back taxes. Both Hansen and husband, Esdel, are named in the lien, which IRB filed Oct. 5, 2009.

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Hansen was convicted in 2008 of three counts of failure to file an income tax return, after being acquitted of more serious charges. According to IRB, the Hansens owe roughly $20,000 for every year from 1989 through 2000, except for 1994. Those debts are all categorized as adjusted taxes as a result of an audit. IRB also cites a combined total of a little more than $15,000 in regular personal income taxes due for 2002, 2006 and 2008.

Calls to Hansen’s offices in both districts Monday were returned 9 a.m. Tuesday by an aide to the senator, who said to expect a call from the senator shortly. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, there was no response from Hansen.

On Dec. 9, 2010, IRB placed a lien against Russell and wife, Royette Russell, for just under $67,000, with $52,000 of that due to audit-adjusted tax liability from 2005 and the rest from regular income taxes for 2006.

No tax liens against any other sitting senators turned up during a search online of both St. Thomas and St. Croix land records and of the St. Croix office’s handwritten records of liens and releases.

The liens say "there is a lien in favor of the Virgin Islands government on all property and rights to property belonging to this taxpayer for the amount of these taxes and additional penalties, interests and costs that may accrue."

Reached by phone last week, IRB Director Claudette Watson-Anderson would not discuss any specific liens, but said a lien would remain in place until the tax debt was resolved, and would attach the proceeds of any real property sold by the debtor. IRB could still issue a tax clearance letter to a person with a lien, but only after the person acknowledged the debt and made a payment plan, she said.

Bill 29-0119, which would eliminate the tax clearance letter but still allow the lieutenant governor to revoke licenses for failure to pay taxes, was approved by the Government Operations Committee last week and sent on for consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Copies of the bill distributed during the hearing and viewable online through the Legislature website’s bill-tracking function say the bill was "proposed by" Senate President Ronald Russell and Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, but the online bill description only lists Hansen as the sponsor. Hansen, Russell and Sen. Alvin Williams provided the votes to send the bill out of committee.

"The bill has nothing to do with the tax lien," Russell said when reached by telephone Monday evening in Canada, where he is attending a Council of State Governments conference. "The reason for the legislation is the two things should not be linked. Separate them and give IRB the money to hire agents," he said.

While both he and his wife are practicing attorneys who would otherwise need to get a business license, both work full time for the government—he as senator and his wife as legal counsel for Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, Russell said. As such, they have no plans to apply for any business licenses and so would not need a tax clearance letter, he said.

Currently, the tax bill is in dispute, Russell said. "We claimed some losses and they wanted more documentation, which we provided. We are negotiating now but in the meantime they say we owe." Once it is resolved, they will pay whatever is determined to be due, he said.

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