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California lieutenant governor's family business owes U.S. more than $100,000 in taxes

The IRS files a lien against Abel Maldonado's Santa Barbara County farm. It is the ninth time since 1992 that tax collectors have filed liens against him to compel payments totaling more than $240,000.

July 23, 2010|By Jack Dolan and Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — A business owned by California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and his family owes the federal government more than $100,000 in taxes, according to a lien filed against the property by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year.

It is the ninth time since 1992 that federal, state or local tax collectors have resorted to liens against the Santa Maria Republican's family farm in an effort to compel payments totaling more than $240,000, public records show.

Federal officials filed the lien April 13, two weeks before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger swore in Maldonado as the state's second highest-ranking public official.

The single-page IRS lien indicates that Maldonado owes the government $111,146 for underpaying a category of taxes that include Social Security, Medicare and federal withholding contributions for employees on his 6,000-acre farm in Santa Barbara County.

An IRS spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing case.

Maldonado did not respond to a request for comment. But Brandon Gesicki, spokesman for Maldonado's reelection campaign, said the outstanding taxes are "absolutely not an employee compensation issue.… It is a dispute over the use of company vehicles."

Gesicki said the IRS claims that about a dozen Ford F-150 pickup trucks driven by company officers, including Maldonado's father, mother and sister, are for personal use, not business purposes. The federal government wants the company to pay taxes on the vehicles as part of a compensation package, he said.

The company, Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises in Santa Maria, argues that the trucks are being used for business, Gesicki said.

"Abel, from time to time, does drive one of these vehicles," Gesicki said. "But for most of the time the lien covers, he had a state vehicle."

The lien says Agro-Jal failed to pay $54,048 in 2006 and $57,098 in 2007, while Maldonado was a state senator. The previous liens, filed between 1992 and 2002, range in size from an $81,129 IRS bill in 1995 to a $408 state tax bill in 1998. All have since been released, Gesicki said.

Maldonado has maintained responsibility for Agro-Jal's books throughout his tenure in state government.

In 2006, during a run for state controller, he identified himself on the ballot as a "controller/auditor," citing his role as manager of the books for Agro-Jal. The senator was taken to court by a fellow Republican for misleading voters.

In a court declaration, Maldonado wrote that his duties, for which he was paid "over $100,000" in 2006, included "auditing, examining, verifying, investigating, presenting and reviewing financial transactions and the accounting records" for Agro-Jal.

A judge ultimately changed Maldonado's ballot designation to "business controller/senator."

Maldonado has listed himself as controller/auditor for Agro-Jal on the annual financial disclosure forms required of elected officials every year since 2006.

News of Maldonado's tax problem brought swift condemnation from opponents including Marty Hittleman, president of the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers. The group is backing Maldonado's Democratic opponent, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, in the November general election.

"Here we are, a state that's lacking funds for basic social services, and we have a lieutenant governor who's unwilling to pay his taxes -- that's outrageous," Hittleman said.

Schwarzenegger appointed Maldonado to the office after it was left vacant by former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi's election to Congress.

Newsom's campaign did not respond to requests for comment late Friday.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

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