Candidates have unpaid taxes, judgments

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NATCHEZ — Two candidates vying for jobs that require direct accounting for large sums of taxpayer dollars owe thousands of dollars in either unpaid taxes or unpaid bills themselves.

One of the candidates, Britt Gibson, was arrested in 2008 and pleaded guilty in 2009 for failure to pay taxes.

Gibson, a circuit clerk candidate, owes more than $400,000 in state and federal tax liens and two court judgments against him and his business, Gibson Interiors, LLC, which he has operated since December 2005.

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Willie B. Jones, a chancery clerk candidate, has one approximately $4,000 court judgment for a past debt filed against him.

Mississippi law allows circuit and chancery clerks to collect fees from the public — from things such as marriage licenses, lawsuits, subpoenas, judgment rolls, certified copies and more — and deposit them into a checking account that can be used to pay their own salary.

A number of clerks across the state have been prosecuted for taking more public money than they were owed, including former Adams County Circuit Clerk M.L. “Binky” Vines.

Britt Gibson

Britt Gibson

According to public records on file in the Adams County chancery clerk’s office, the federal government first filed a tax lien against Gibson Interiors, a contracting business, in April 2008 for $28,301.55.

That lien, and most of the subsequent federal liens, cited failure to pay employees’ tax withholdings for tax periods beginning Sept. 30, 2007, and continuing intermittently to March 2010. The majority of the liens are filed against Gibson Interiors, though one names both the business and Gibson and another names just Gibson. Mississippi Secretary of State’s office records show that Gibson owns 100 percent of the company, effective June 1, 2008. He was previously listed as its president since the business was formed Dec. 20, 2005.

Natchez Certified Public Accountant Billy Gillon said employee tax withholdings would include things such as Social Security and Medicare payments.

Gibson said the tax liens against his business were transferred to him from his father’s company, Carpet Sales and Service Incorporated, where he worked until he signed the papers for Gibson Interiors in December 2005.

“I inherited those (tax liens),” he said Saturday. “I’m working on taking care of them. It will not affect my performance within an office, though. It doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing within this office.”

However, only one of the federal liens refers to taxes due to be paid before 2006. That lien — for $500 — was for the tax period ending Dec. 31, 2005.

All 20 of the remaining tax periods mentioned in the liens ended after 2006, the year after Gibson said he took over the business.

The federal liens total $221,612.44, of that number $60,906.39 is attributed to Gibson personally.

Gibson said Monday the personal liens were something the tax commission had “patched through” to him from the business. When asked to explain further, Gibson said he’d prefer to get his paperwork together and talk Tuesday.

The Mississippi Department of Revenue also filed a lien for $2,146 against Gibson personally.

In addition, 12 state tax liens totaling $150,385.75 have been filed against Gibson Interiors for tax periods beginning in 2006 and ending in 2009.

United Mississippi Bank was also issued court judgments totaling $27,878.77 against Gibson personally.

On Nov. 1, 2008, after the State Tax Commission filed charges with the Adams County Judges Circuit, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office arrested Gibson for failure to pay withholding taxes for July and May 2008 and for failure to make sales tax returns July 1 through Aug. 31, 2008, according to an ACSO report.

“(The sheriff’s office) called me and I went in, and that was on a Saturday, I believe, and by Monday, maybe Tuesday, those (charges) were taken care of,” Gibson said.

Gibson said the issue arose after he failed to send in a signed report he assumed had already been sent.

“Once it was made aware to me that it was an issue, I did take care of it,” he said.

Paperwork on file at the Adams County Justice Court shows that Gibson pleaded guilty to the charges on March 20, 2009, and was fined $163.50. His case was also turned over to Receivable Solutions, a collections agency.

Five additional state tax liens totaling $18,448.02 that were filed against Gibson Interiors, LLC have been paid.

Willie B. Jones

Willie B. Jones

Jones has $3,912.96 in dollars owed to a private finance agency on file in the Adams County Circuit Clerk’s Office; however, Jones said he does not owe any money and information at the circuit clerk’s office was incorrect.

Court documents show Delta Finance Co. Inc. was issued a judgment against Jones in March 1994 for the funds he owes.

Three additional paid debt judgments are on file for Jones — one from 1995, one from 2003, one from 2004 and one from 2007 — totaling more than $9,000. Court documents show Jones has been released from those debt obligations.

Other candidates

The Mississippi Regional Housing Authority filed a lien against circuit clerk candidate Jennifer “Lady J” Minor in May 1999 for $4,652. It was paid in October 1999.

Minor declined to comment on the judgment, saying it was years ago.

Neither Circuit Clerk candidate Eddie Walker nor Chancery Court Clerk candidate Tommy O’Beirne had tax liens or other debt-related judgments on file.

What it means

If a tax lien goes unpaid, a person’s ability to advance his or her business or borrow money would be inhibited, former city attorney Walter Brown said. If the government chooses, it could garnish a person’s wages until the taxes are paid, he said.

Chancery and circuit clerks — like other elected officials — are required by law to be bonded before they can hold their offices.

The bonds, like an insurance policy, are required, to weed out unethical or fraudulent individuals running for that office by checking candidate’s financial and criminal backgrounds.

Johnny Byrne of Byrne Insurance has bonded candidates in Adams County for several years, and said when an individual goes to get bonded, the bonding agency makes the ultimate decision on whether or not to bond the candidate.

“Someone won’t necessarily be denied a bond, but they could,” he said. “They can underwrite the bond to include background checks, credit checks and things like that.”

Byrne said when tax liens or bond losses are found in someone’s history, the bonding agency can refuse to bond the individual.

“I have seen it happen many times,” he said. “It’s all based on the decision of the agency, and whether or not they underwrote the bond to require any checks.”

If a bonding agency could not be found to provide a bond for a candidate, a cash or property bond could be provided in its place.