Questions Surround State’s Death Penalty Practices
By Geoff Gerling
In recent years, there has been a growing effort to end the capital punishment across the nation by individuals and groups ranging from religious and civil rights leaders to legal scholars and politicians. Proponents of this may have gained an unexpected ally in Missouri: the IRS.
Research conducted by Chris McDaniel of the online media platform BuzzFeed reveals that officers from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) have been making large cash payments to individuals actually conducting and assisting in the executions, but no 1099 tax forms are issued as required by federal law. An amount of $284,551 has been dispensed in this manner, a few thousand at a time since late 2013, but there is no paper trail linking the state to the contracted professionals.
The Internal Revenue Service requires a 1099 form be issued by the payer anytime a payment of $600 or more occurs including the identity of the payee to insure taxes are collected, yet the DOC states it has no records of 1099s issued at any time leading lawmakers to wonder if Missouri is in serious violation of federal tax law.
On February 1, the Missouri House of Representatives budget committee questioned the director of the DOC, George Lombardi.
State Representative Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) asked many questions about their practices including if Lombardi knew of any exemption the department had to skirt the IRS’s normal requirements. Lombardi said “it is my understanding that giving 1099s to these individuals would reveal who they were and would mean the end of the death penalty because these individuals wouldn’t do it.” When asked if there was any evidence proving this statement or if this is officially the department’s documented policy, Lombardi said that it was just something they do as a matter of practice.
LaFaver tells the Martin City Telegraph the fine for not issuing a 1099 is $100 per incident if it is accidental (a clerical error, for example) but much higher if it is done intentionally.
“More than $250,000 has been distributed this way just since 2013 but research shows that the state has never issued the form going back to at least the Ashcroft administration (the 1980s).” LaFaver thinks the total IRS fines levied against the state could be huge.
Rep. Jack Bondon (R-Cass and Jackson Counties) represents the Martin City area and shares LaFaver’s concerns. “It should not be a partisan issue for the taxpayers to expect transparency. Regardless of where you stand (on capital punishment), we have to expect state government to follow federal law.”
Bondon further added, “if this was any other issue, there would be no debate,” in regard to the legal and financial implications of the state’s practices.
Senator Paul Wieland (R-Jefferson County) has sponsored legislation this year repealing the death penalty in Missouri (SB 816) but few are optimistic of its passage despite Wieland’s strong standing with the majority party. Missouri has been near the top of the nation in state sponsored executions for several years conducting 16 in the past two years, second only to Texas despite having a fraction of their population.
What will happen next remains unclear. Lombardi was defensive in his answers to questions regarding the 1099s and did not specify if the practice would continue under his leadership. At some point, a full investigation by the IRS is possible and any fines would be paid by the taxpayers as new spending not currently in the Department of Corrections budget.
Rep. LaFaver noted that Arizona and Oklahoma also pay executioners in cash but do issue 1099 forms. “How many federal laws do we need to break to continue the death penalty in Missouri?”