Bill Jenkins, a news announcer and talk show host for KABC radio, was found guilty Friday of three counts of failure to file state income tax returns.
Jenkins, 50, and his wife, Evelyn, 50, who also was convicted, admitted not having filed state tax returns after 1978. But Jenkins tried to persuade the Van Nuys Municipal Court jury that income taxes are unconstitutional.
The Mission Hills couple could receive a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $3,000 fine. They also owe the state more than $20,000 in accrued interest and penalties, as well as back taxes, according to a spokeswoman for the state Franchise Tax Board. Judge Kenneth Chotiner scheduled sentencing for Wednesday.
Jenkins, who broadcasts the news on weekdays and hosts a Saturday night call-in show called “Open Mind,” said he has never advocated tax protesting on the air.
Cited 16th Amendment
During two days of testimony, however, Jenkins said he refused to file his state income tax returns because the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in 1913 gave Congress the authority to collect taxes on income, was never properly ratified.
“In effect, we have a law that never was,” Jenkins said. “We have a profound obligation to obey the law of the land, and I’m not going to let anyone take away that right.”
But Deputy City Atty. George Schell, who prosecuted the case, said Jenkins’ argument is a common ploy used to avoid filing tax returns. “This is nothing new, it’s a typical excuse,” he said.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the viability of the 16th Amendment. There really are no grounds that lend any credence to not filing your income tax returns,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”
After his conviction, Jenkins told jurors, who deliberated just 40 minutes before reaching their verdict, “My conviction today was just a formality. We will appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court if needed.”
The two were convicted of not paying state income tax for 1979, 1980 and 1981. Their combined income for those years was $41,651, $35,898 and $63,062, according to Janie Cordray of the state Franchise Tax Board.
Based on standard deductions, the couple’s tax liability would be about $6,818 for the three years, excluding interest and penalties, Cordray said.
“We actually don’t know what they owe us because they never filed a return. For all we know, they could even be entitled to a refund,” she said.
Federal Returns Unclear
Jenkins and his wife refused to say whether they had filed federal tax returns, and a spokesman with the Internal Revenue Service declined to say whether they had filed returns.
In the state criminal case against the Jenkinses, based on charges filed in March, 1983, the prosecution and defense did not dispute most of the facts. Before the trial, they filed a written stipulation that the Jenkinses were obliged under existing law to file their state income tax returns and that neither had done so. Nevertheless, Jenkins said he hoped to win his case by making his constitutional argument.
Jenkins also delivered an impromptu lecture to jurors crowded in a courthouse corridor after the verdict.
He called the state Franchise Tax Board “our own little Gestapo, which thinks it’s above the law . . . When you see the government doing something wrong, you have to stand up on your hind legs and do something about it.”
But, jury foreman Stanley Wyse said, “It was an open-and-shut case, really. He admitted to breaking the law, and that’s why we found him guilty. We had no choice.”
Thus far in 1985, 60 Californians have been charged with failure to file state income tax returns, and more than 400 others are under criminal investigation for failure to file, Cordray said. All the defendants charged have been convicted, she said.
If a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the charges and agrees to file a return with penalties and accrued interest, the criminal penalty usually is a fine of about $500, the state tax spokeswoman said.