Root out guilty at Ohio tax office

Ohio’s Department of Taxation is a mess, and Tax Commissioner Joe Testa has a host of problems to sort through – some of them criminal. As we reported previously, an investigation by the state Inspector General’s office found the department failed to return about $34 million in refunds owed to businesses, and maintained a policy of not letting companies know when they had sent too much money to the state.

More specifics about the outrageous abuse are coming to light.

In the Inspector General’s report, former Deputy Tax Commissioner Rick Anthony is accused of illegally delaying $9 million in approved refunds to companies that overpaid some taxes. Anthony, the report said, was aware of the problem and broke the law.

However, though Testa said the crimes against businesses were “reprehensible,” Anthony is now in place as director of operations for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

While not strictly illegal, the standing order not to tell taxpayers when they had overpaid – even when those taxpayers called the department with other questions – is equally disgusting. The inspector general’s report quoted one tax agent as saying “We will gladly send out a bill. We do not gladly send out something saying you have a refund.”

For his part, Testa claims he was unaware of any money being withheld, and that efforts are underway to change the policy on informing those who have overpaid. Such ignorance of departmental procedure calls into question Testa’s oversight, at the very least.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Columbus and Franklin County are looking at the report in order to determine what, if any, criminal charges are appropriate. If the evidence supports the report’s accusations against Anthony, those prosecutors should throw the book at him, and not stop until they have made certain every guilty party in the Department of Taxation is found.

Business owners in Ohio have enough obstacles to overcome without knowing officials are actively working against them. At least one branch of government must do its best to let them know someone is on their side.