Statement of Comptroller Peter Franchot Regarding Same-Sex Couples and Tax Filing

Annapolis, MD (December 19, 2012)

Comptroller Peter Franchot today released the following statement regarding same-sex couples and tax filing in Maryland:

“Yesterday’s Washington Times article contained significant misinformation regarding the tax filing status of same-sex couples in Maryland. Contrary to the tone and the facts contained in the story, same-sex couples in the State of Maryland – whether married in this state or in other states – will have the opportunity to file joint tax returns for Tax Year 2013, and will receive the same state tax treatment as any married couple. This will occur either as a result of a legislative action, or if necessary, a regulatory change, either of which is necessary because Maryland’s tax code is conjoined to the IRS unless specifically decoupled. My senior staff and I will work with legislative leaders over the next few weeks to determine the most appropriate course of action.

I proudly testified in strong support of the Civil Marriage Protection Act and remain a steadfast supporter of marriage equality. Honoring Maryland’s hard-earned reputation for fairness and equality, this change will afford same-sex couples with the rights and protections commensurate with their obligations as taxpayers.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Joe Shapiro 410-260-7305, office; 443-871-2244, cell

Comptroller Franchot in the Holiday Shopping Spirit

- The Comptroller Kicks off His ‘Shop Maryland for the Holidays’ Tour in Bethesda-

Annapolis, MD (November 28, 2012)

With the Thanksgiving holiday a warm, overstuffed memory, many Marylanders are now gearing up for holiday shopping and Comptroller Peter Franchot is encouraging residents to ‘Shop Maryland for the Holidays’ this year. Visiting local shops today in Bethesda, he kicked off his annual tour throughout the state promoting small business patronage.

“There is something to be said for the personal interactions with other shoppers and store employees at the holidays. It’s warm and inviting, unlike a cold, unfeeling computer,” says Comptroller Franchot. “Plus when you shop in state and support your community businesses, you are bound to find great deals and help the more than 500,000 Marylanders employed in our state’s retail sector. And really, isn’t the spirit of the holidays all about helping others and kindness?” he added.

Pat Donoho, President of the Maryland Retail Association said, “Maryland retailers truly appreciate the support consumers give them during the holidays by shopping in their stores. Thanksgiving provided a great start for the holiday season. Shoppers responded to the variety of promotions offered by Maryland retailers with an increase in sales of over 5% from 2011.”

“Maryland Retailers Association urges consumers to visit their local retailers for their holiday shopping needs. Retailers employ your friends, neighbors and family, support your local community, and are the heart of economic activity in most Maryland communities.” says Donoho.

Downtown Bethesda is the first of several stops on the Comptroller’s tour to promote the great retailers and community shopping areas throughout the state. He will visit other communities in the coming weeks such as Reisterstown (Baltimore County), Cumberland (Allegany County), Chestertown (Kent County) and Leonardtown (St. Mary’s County). In past years, the Comptroller has shopped in Queenstown, Hunt Valley, Baltimore City, Takoma Park, Cumberland, Annapolis, Hagerstown, Easton and Salisbury.

The Comptroller also reminds consumers that in-state shopping puts citizens’ hard earned money back into their communities and supports local businesses that employ our friends and neighbors. But he adds, “If you really must shop online, you can support local store owners by making sure it’s a Maryland business Website.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Kim Frum, (410) 260-7210 (office), (443) 949-1583 (cell)

Comptroller Agents Seize Nearly $16K Worth of Contraband Cigarettes in Two Day Operation

- Two Stopped on Interstate 81 in Hagerstown -

Annapolis, MD (November 20, 2012)

Working hard to ensure that everyone pays their fair share, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division, in cooperation with the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, recently confiscated $15,976 worth of contraband cigarettes on Interstate 81 in Hagerstown, Md. In a two-day operation, agents seized 2,477 packs of illegal cigarettes and arrested one man.

“My agents will continue to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling and other illegal tax evasion tactics,” said Comptroller Franchot. “This activity will not be tolerated in Maryland.”

On Thursday, after witnessing the defendant purchase a large quantity of cigarettes at multiple locations in Virginia, which has a lower tax rate for the product, law enforcement officials stopped Brian Wilson, 55, of Tillison, NY, and seized his 1,680 packs of contraband cigarettes as well as his 2005 Suzuki. He has been charged with Transporting Contraband Cigarettes and Possession of Contraband Cigarettes in the State of Maryland. The transporting charge is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two-year imprisonment sentence. The possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.

The following day, agents witnessed, Lorraine Brown, 56, of Waterbury, CT, purchasing a large amount of cigarettes in Virginia and stopped her 1989 Volvo on Interstate 81 in Hagerstown. Agents discovered nearly 800 packs of illegal cigarettes worth $5140. She was issued a criminal citation and agents seized the contraband and her vehicle.
“I applaud my agents and our partners in the law enforcement community for their efforts. We will continue to work together to stop this kind of criminal activity in Maryland,” Franchot said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Caron Brace, 410-212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller Agents Seize 8K Packs of Contraband Cigarettes on I-70 in Hagerstown

-New York Resident Arrested, Vehicle and Nearly $52K Worth of Cigarettes Seized-

Annapolis, MD (November 8, 2012)

Working hard to ensure that everyone pays their fair share, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division confiscated 8,000 packs of contraband cigarettes on Interstate 70 in Hagerstown, Md. Yesterday, the Comptroller’s agents stopped the driver of a New Jersey registered vehicle and confiscated nearly $52,000 worth of illegal cigarettes.

“My agents will continue to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling and other illegal tax evasion tactics,” said Comptroller Franchot. “This illegal activity will not be tolerated in Maryland.”

Officials arrested the driver of the vehicle, Henry A. Badia, a 33-year-old resident of New York, NY. He has been charged with Transporting Contraband Cigarettes and Possession of Contraband Cigarettes in the State of Maryland. The transporting charge is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two-year imprisonment sentence. The possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.

“I look forward to working with the Maryland General Assembly in the Spring to pass legislation that will implement harsher penalties and allow for stricter enforcement for these crimes throughout the state,” continued Comptroller Franchot.
The vehicle was confiscated and the defendant was detained before being released on a $3,000 bond.

MEDIA CONTACT: Caron Brace (410) 212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller Franchot to Honor the Unsung Heroes in the Public School System

- Golden Apple Award Recognizes Volunteers in Maryland Public Schools -

Annapolis, MD (October 17, 2012)

Everyone knows public school teachers have a thankless job, but there are others within the public school system that receive even less acknowledgement- until now. Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced his Golden Apple Award specifically designed to honor the hard-working volunteers throughout Maryland’s public school system.

“Countless numbers of men, women and organizations donate their time and resources to volunteer at public schools throughout the state. All without pay and, sometimes, without the proper recognition they deserve,” says Comptroller Franchot. “It is my great pleasure to announce the Golden Apple Award. This honor will provide the accolades these volunteers truly deserve.”

Comptroller Franchot is no stranger to recognizing outstanding achievements in Maryland’s public schools. He created the Silver Hammer Award to recognize schools that demonstrated a commitment to fiscal responsibility through superior school maintenance. “Maintaining a healthy learning environment is paramount to our kids, and their teachers’ success. But maintenance extends to more than just repairing a roof or building an addition. It also means having people available to guide the children, help the teacher and provide a safe and educational environment whether in the classroom or on a field trip,” says the Comptroller.

Nominations for the Golden Apple Award will be accepted for all 23 counties, and Baltimore City, until December 1, 2012 with the awards to be distributed in 2013. For more information or to submit a nomination, visit the Comptroller’s Website at www.marylandtaxes.com.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kim Frum, 410-260-7210 (office), 443-949-1583 (cell)

Comptroller Offers Federal-State Tax Institutes in November for Registered Individual Tax Preparers

- New Legislation Requires Fed and MD Preparers to Register and Continue Education -

Annapolis, MD (October 25, 2012)

Today, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced the dates and locations for the 2012 Federal and State Tax Institutes, which will be offered in Baltimore, Easton, Frederick and Greenbelt in November. The pre-registration fee is $90 and the walk-in registration fee is $150.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Comptroller of Maryland now require individual tax preparers to be registered to prepare taxes in that state of Maryland. Additionally, at both the federal and state level, there is a Continuing Education (CE) requirement for registered preparers. Each year, the Comptroller of Maryland provides the institutes, in conjunction with the IRS, to keep Maryland’s preparers up-to-date on new legislation, processes and policies for the upcoming filing season. To better serve the tax preparer community, the Comptroller’s Office is an official CE provider and attendance at one of the affordable one-day institutes will count toward satisfying the CE requirements for Maryland’s registered individual tax preparers.

The 2012 tax institutes are offered at various locations throughout the state from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the following dates:

• Friday, November 9, 2012
The Milestone (formerly Krystal Q Reception Hall and Catering)
9630 Technology Drive
Easton, MD 21601
•Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Holiday Inn
5400 Holiday Drive
Frederick, MD 21073 
• Friday, November 16, 2012
Martin’s Crosswinds
7400 Greenway Center Drive
Greenbelt, MD 20770
• Monday, November 19, 2012
Martin’s West
6817 Dogwood Road
Baltimore, MD 21244

A total of eight credits toward CE requirements will be given for attending one of the institutes.
In the state of Maryland, tax preparers must apply for, be granted and annually renew a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) in order to legally prepare returns. Additionally, the preparer must be registered by the Maryland Board of Individual Tax Preparers. The Maryland registration requires that the preparer have a current, valid PTIN, as well as be at least 18 years old with a valid High School diploma or General Education Development (GED).

The registration fee for the initial two-year registration and subsequent bi-annual renewal is $100. The expiration date will be two years from the date of issuance. A renewal applicant must complete at least 16 hours of qualifying continuing education for each two-year registration term, of which at least four hours must be in Maryland tax-related subjects.

Individuals who fall within one of the following categories are exempt from the state registration requirement and can prepare taxes without registering with the Maryland Board of Individual Tax Preparers. These exempt categories include:

• a current, active CPA registered by Maryland or any other state;

• an individual in good standing and admitted to practice law in the state or in another state;

• an individual employed by a local, state, or federal governmental agency but only in performance of official duties;

• an individual enrolled to practice before the Internal Revenue Service who is governed under circular 230;

• an individual serving as an employee of or assistant to an individual tax preparer or an individual exempted under this subsection in the performance of official duties for the individual tax preparer or the individual exempted in bullets above.

For additional information about the 2012 tax institutes, please visit 2012 Federal/State Tax Institutes. To learn more about Maryland’s registration requirements, visit http://dllr.maryland.gov/license/taxprep/taxpreplic.shtml.

MEDIA CONTACT: Caron Brace, (410) 212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller, State Police Partnership Leads to Cigarette Bust on I-95 in Howard County

- One Arrest, Vehicle and Nearly $40K Worth of Cigarettes Seized -

Annapolis, MD (October 17, 2012)

Continuing in his efforts to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling and other tax evasion tactics, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division, working in conjunction with Maryland State Police, confiscated thousands of packs of contraband cigarettes on Interstate 95 South. Yesterday, during a routine traffic violation stop near Route 175, Maryland State Trooper Douglas Deaner of the Waterloo Barrack in Howard County noticed that the driver of a New York registered vehicle was transporting a significantly large quantity of contraband cigarettes. The Comptroller’s agents arrived on the scene and seized 6,000 packs of contraband cigarettes, valued at nearly $40,000.

“This illegal activity will not be tolerated in the State of Maryland,” said Comptroller Franchot. “I want to thank Maryland State Trooper Deaner for his invaluable assistance in this case. This is a great example of the tremendous partnership my agency has with law enforcement agencies throughout the state.”

Following the joint investigation, officials arrested the driver of the vehicle, El-Housseni Hassan, a 23-year-old resident of Brooklyn, NY. He has been charged with Transporting Contraband Cigarettes and Possession of Contraband Cigarettes in the State of Maryland. The transporting charge is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two-year imprisonment sentence. The possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year. Comptroller Franchot has been a strong advocate for harsher penalties and stricter enforcement for these crimes throughout the state.

“Working together with their colleagues, my agents will continue to be vigilant as we work to arrest and prosecute those who blatantly disregard Maryland’s tobacco laws which protect law-abiding businesses and keep our communities free of contraband,” continued Comptroller Franchot.

The vehicle was confiscated and the defendant detained, pending an initial hearing before a Howard County District Court Commissioner.

MEDIA CONTACT: Caron Brace, 410-212-9414 (cell)

Comptroller Speaks Out Against Question 5, Calls for Bipartisan Commission to Determine Districts

- Maryland has Least Compact Congressional Districts in Nation -

Annapolis, MD (October 16, 2012)

Comptroller Peter Franchot, today spoke out against Question 5, the Congressional Districting Plan being voted on in next month’s statewide ballot. Instead, he called for a new approach to congressional and legislative redistricting that takes the process and the decision out of the hands of partisan politicians and turns it over to a bipartisan commission. He made the announcement on WBAL Radio’s The C4 Show and is expected to make a similar call at this afternoon’s Institute of Internal Auditor’s District Conference in Linthicum.

“The people of Maryland should send a message to their leaders in Annapolis by voting no on Question 5. Our leaders were driven by partisan motives when coming up with the proposed map and not by the public interest,” Franchot said. “The map that resulted from the redistricting process has embarrassed our state, diminished public access to their elected representatives and further eroded public confidence in our political process,” he added.

The Comptroller is calling for Maryland to join the ranks of several other states which take the legislative and congressional redistricting process completely out of the hands of those with vested interest in the outcome and give it instead to a bipartisan commission that is divided equally between Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

In addition to the flawed process, the Comptroller criticized the sprawling and oddly-shaped districts that are created under the current plan. According to a non-partisan study released by Azavea, earlier this month, Maryland now has the least compact congressional districts in the nation. In fact, one federal judge called the third district “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

“I am a Democrat, and I like to win elections as much of the next guy- but not by fixing the outcome and not by compromising our state’s reputation by making a mockery of the electoral process,” Franchot said.
Combined with the Comptroller’s call last month for new, real-time campaign finance reporting, this proposal would put Maryland on the forefront of political transparency and fairness.

“This is a wake-up call for Maryland. The fair-minded people of this state need to step up and demand that we take this process back from the politicians and special interests who have the most at stake and in the outcome,” said Franchot.

MEDIA CONTACT: Christine Feldmann, 410-260-6346 (office); 443-336-0215 (cell)

New Twist on a “Classic”, Computer Virus Targeting Maryland Residents

- Virus Tells Maryland Users to Pay Comptroller’s Office $200 -

Annapolis, MD (October 3, 2012)

Emphasizing his agency’s role in protecting Marylanders from Internet and tax scams, Comptroller Peter Franchot today issued an alert warning residents about a new computer virus that targets Maryland residents and will pick their pockets of cash.

“It has been brought to my attention that there may be a new variant of an Internet virus targeting Maryland citizens,” said Comptroller Franchot. “This virus locks up your computer, tells the user that the only way to unlock their computer requires them to send $200 to my office. This is absolutely not true. My office does not monitor private citizen’s computer usage and has no authority to lock up a computer system or fine anyone for their Internet activities.”

This virus seems to be a variation of an earlier one that attracted the attention of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in spring 2011. That virus appeared to come from the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and acted similarly, but in those instances the message indicated there was a violation of federal law and the fine was to be paid using a prepaid money card service.

Generally a person’s computer becomes infected by a virus when they open an attachment or click on a link. This particular virus installs itself on the computer when the user visits a compromised website.

There are some easy ways to try and limit the exposure to computer viruses:

• Make sure you have good anti-virus software on your computer, keep it up to date and run a weekly scan
• Don’t click on links, or an attachment, in an email that you aren’t absolutely sure comes from a trusted source. If you think the email looks suspicious, it probably is
• If there’s ever any question about the validity of a link, or attachment, contact the person, or company, that sent it and verify it’s legitimacy
• Use USB drives cautiously. Viruses can potentially be spread by plugging another USB drive into your computer, or using your drive in another computer. Much like viruses in humans, computer viruses can spread through direct contact, not always through the computer files.
• Watch out for pop-up ads that look like they came from your computer. Some viruses are disguised as warnings from your computer program, such as Windows, that warn you about a problem that needs to be fixed. When clicked, the virus is installed. Check the validity of the warning by opening the anti-virus software on your computer, any warnings will be found on the front page. And clean the computer cache regularly
• Watch out for odd emails from companies you conduct business with. Many scammers have created very good copies of a company’s email style and similar email addresses. If you’re suspicious, visit the company website and see if the notice is on their homepage. Good businesses will never ask for personal or sensitive information via email.
• Use a firewall and make sure it is turned on, but don’t run two at the same time. It can make your computer more vulnerable.
• Switch to a different Internet browser. Many browsers allow you to personalize them to give you more control over privacy choices, pop-ups or tracking software

There are many other ways to prevent computer viruses which can be found by visiting a search engine site like Google or Bing.

Read more about the FBI scam http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/august/new-internet-scam. For free tax help, tips and for answers to any tax question, please go to the Comptroller’s Website at www.marylandtaxes.com or call 1-800-MD-TAXES (1-800-638-2937).

MEDIA CONTACT: Kim Frum, (410) 260-7210 (office), (443) 949-1583 (cell)

Two Arrested as Police, Comptroller’s Agents Continue Crack-Down on Cigarette Smuggling

- Cigarettes valued at nearly $42,000 seized in Kent County -

Annapolis, MD (September 28, 2012)

Agents for the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division, along with the Kent County Sherriff’s Office, seized 7,000 packs of contraband cigarettes worth $42,000 and arrested two people for allegedly smuggling contraband cigarettes during a traffic stop on Route 301 in Kent County on September 21.

“I’d like to thank Corporal Harry Kettner and Sheriff John F. Price of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office for helping my agents continue the fight against cigarette smuggling in Maryland,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “As soon as Corporal Kettner realized this wasn’t a routine traffic stop, his office contacted my agency’s Field Enforcement Division and agents were immediately dispatched to assist with the investigation. Every smuggler caught is one more opportunity to crack down on illegal activity and I applaud the agencies involved for helping to aggressively uphold and enforce Maryland’s tax laws.”

Agents charged Robert and Angelica Wierzbinski, both from Flushing, NY with Transporting Contraband Cigarettes in Maryland and Possession of Contraband Cigarettes. The two were released on $35,000 bond.

Addressing the need for stronger punishments for cigarette smuggling, the Comptroller notes, “The current penalties for cigarette smuggling aren’t strong enough to deter people from continually trying to transport cigarettes illegally. Many times, my agency has found those who are arrested are repeat offenders, and that is unforgiveable.”

The current laws make Transportation of Contraband (Unstamped) Cigarettes in the state of Maryland a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the crime of Possession of Contraband Cigarettes is classified as a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year. Comptroller Franchot supports harsher penalties and stiffer fines for both crimes.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kim Frum, (410)260-7210, (office), (443)949-1583, (cell)