I live in Ward 4, which is represented on the Norfolk City Council by Paul Riddick. I was saddened to see the story in Thursday’s paper about his owing more than $246,000 in back taxes. Alerted to the story when it first went online Wednesday afternoon, I thought it might just be the filing of a federal tax lien. It was way more than that.
The documents show unpaid taxes going back to 1998. They show the filing of federal tax liens from 2003 to 2008. These alone were enough for every media outlet in Hampton Roads to run a story about it.
What caught my eye, though, was the government’s claim of a fraudulent conveyance (p.8). Having been an IRS agent for six years and a practicing CPA for the past 26 years since, I know the government doesn’t throw around the word “fraud” very often. This is serious business.
Much of the commentary surrounding this issue (columnist Kerry Dougherty and the editorial board both weighed in today) is whether the lack of payment – combined with Riddick’s previous history – make him unfit to serve. I would argue that the majority of people in Ward 4, as evidenced by his re-election, disagree with that assessment. Further, I would argue, that the majority of his fellow council members, who have stood beside him as he faced re-election and who are quite aware of his past history, would disagree with that assessment.
But fraud? That is a step too far.
I have no doubt that Riddick – a very smart man, by the way – relied on the poor advice of some “professional” somewhere. Transferring property to avoid taxes is an absolute no-no. Even if somebody told him to do it, his ethical radar should have gone off to stop it.
I have, on many occasions, defended the actions of Councilman Riddick, both publicly and privately. But this I cannot defend.