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Monday, May 13, 2019
Delay Delay Delay
Folks, our previous sheriff who failed to file her tax return sentencing has been delayed until June 26, at 10 a.m.
Sheriff pleads guilty to tax violation
By Eric Fleischauer Metro Editor
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin will be arraigned in January for a tax violation, the same month she leaves office.
Franklin was charged Tuesday with one misdemeanor count of willful failure to file a personal tax return, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and faces a maximum penalty of a year in prison and $100,000 fine. She agreed to plead guilty to the charge.
Franklin, of Hartselle, referred questions to her lawyer, William Gray of Birmingham. Gray said he expects Franklin to be sentenced after a pre-sentence report is completed, which will be sometime after her arraignment."We really don't think she did anything wrong," Gray said. "I hope the judge agrees with us she doesn't need to be incarcerated. There's only about 40 (million) or 50 million people who failed to file a return. This was after a 3½-year investigation."
Franklin, 54, was charged with failing to file a 2015 personal tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. Also in 2015, the sheriff removed $160,000 from a jail food account and loaned $150,000 of it to Priceville Partners LLC. Priceville Partners declared bankruptcy in March 2016.
"We expect all of our citizens, to include and especially our public officials, to promptly and accurately file their tax returns," said Jay Town, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, in a statement Tuesday afternoon announcing the plea agreement.
The charge indirectly involved Franklin's use of the food money, Gray said, because Franklin's failure to file any 2015 tax returns stemmed from her confusion over whether to treat the food money as personal income.
State law is unclear as to whether sheriffs can keep unspent inmate-food money as personal income. Different attorneys general have arrived at different conclusions, although a federal order in effect in 2015 barred Morgan County sheriffs from personally keeping the money.Franklin's legal problems with the IRS stemmed from that legal uncertainty, Gray said.
"It's indirectly involved because nobody knew what to do. Everybody and his brother had opinions. It's just a very confusing law," Gray said, referring to Alabama law on whether or not sheriffs can keep leftover inmate food money as supplemental income.
"She didn't file a return, and she didn't deny it," Gray said. "She said, 'I didn't know what to do, and I didn't file.' "
When she eventually filed her 2015 return in late 2017, Gray said, she still didn't report the jail food money as income. He said he retained tax attorneys for Franklin, who convinced the IRS this omission was appropriate.
"The jail food money, under the law as I understand it, was always her money," Gray said. "But it's not a taxable event until she took it. We believe the tax law is such that when she loaned the money - and it went straight from the bank to Priceville Partners - that was not taxable."He said she has personally kept jail food money in 2018.
"She has taken some this year, and she's reported that to her accountant. But this is the first year she's received any of that," Gray said.
Gray said the plea agreement Franklin entered also precludes other charges by the Justice Department.
The plea agreement does not specify what penalty will be imposed.
"It will be up to the judge to decide," Gray said. "There is no agreement to what the penalties are. The plea agreement is that it's a misdemeanor, which is a very significant event. We don't think she deserves any jail time or anything like that. She admitted it and has entered a plea to it."Gray said they only accepted the deal after the Justice Department agreed to treat it as a misdemeanor.
"We're pleased, but frankly apprehensive. You cannot deny the fact she did not file a return," Gray said. "There are just some things you can't keep on fighting forever. I really hope the judge agrees with us there's no need for incarceration. She's done a lot of good things for Morgan County."
Franklin did not seek re-election and leaves office Jan. 14.