Comptroller Franchot Releases FY 17 Figures for Alcohol, Cigarette and Fuel Violations

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 24, 2017) – Reinforcing his agency’s continued commitment to aggressively enforce Maryland’s tax laws, Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced the final figures for alcohol, cigarette and motor fuel violations for fiscal year 2017. Making the announcement surrounded by contraband products, Franchot praised the work of his agents and other law enforcement agencies in working together to protect law-abiding businesses from underground operations and tax cheats.

“The blatant disregard of Maryland tax laws, which protect law-abiding businesses and consumers, will not be ignored,” said Comptroller Franchot. “I am very proud of the diligent efforts of my field enforcement agents and inspectors to stop criminals and their contraband. These enforcement actions, along with the stricter penalties we’ve been able to enact, send a clear message that this type of illegal activity will not be tolerated in Maryland and that criminals will be punished.”

For fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30, Comptroller agents issued 87 cigarette violations resulting in the confiscation of a total of 103,190 packs of cigarettes and 87,561 packages of Other Tobacco Products (OTP) with a combined retail value of $738,415. This represents a tax loss of more than $254,000. FY 2017 saw an increase in the amount of confiscated alcohol. This past year saw 250 gallons of distilled liquor, 9.39 gallons of wine and more than 1,186 containers of beer confiscated along with the issuance of 25 violations. The total retail value of the seized alcohol was $42,843. The gallons of distilled liquor and containers of beer confiscated represent an increase of more than 100 percent from FY 2016.

In addition to alcohol and tobacco violations, FED inspectors issued 120 motor fuel and International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) violations, a decrease from the previous fiscal year which speaks to the integrity of the motor fuel retailers throughout the state and the Agency’s reputation for being a strict regulator. In addition, more than $217,000 of delinquent sales and use tax was collected by FED agents, all of which goes to the state’s general fund.

Contraband alcohol and tobacco products are retained by the Comptroller’s Office as evidence against a defendant until the pending case is adjudicated. The Comptroller’s Office is required by state law to destroy or sell the product, with the exception of beer which must be destroyed due to its short shelf life. Only licensed Maryland retailers or wholesalers can bid on seized alcohol or tobacco lots sold. All money collected from these sales is deposited in the general fund.

“My office remains committed to ensuring a level playing field for all Maryland businesses. We will continue to work with law enforcement officials on the local, state and federal levels to keep contraband alcohol and tobacco products out of Maryland communities,” Franchot said.

Media Contacts: Joseph Shapiro, 410-260-7305 (office), 443-871-2244 (cell)
Alan Brody, 410-6346 (office), 443-924-1473 (cell)

Comptroller Branch Office in Upper Marlboro Closed for Remainder of Monday, August 21

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 21, 2017) – The Comptroller’s Office branch location in the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro will be closed for the remainder of today due to the lack of air conditioning in the building. Taxpayers may visit Comptroller offices in Greenbelt and in Annapolis at the Revenue Administration Center, which are open with regular hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Taxpayers in need of free state tax assistance can continue to call the taxpayer services line from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-MD TAXES, or 410-260-7980.

MEDIA CONTACT: Vicki Fisher – 410-260-7816 (office), 443-534-6259 (cell)

 

Vast Majority of Marylanders Support Changes to Current Brewery Laws

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 14, 2017) – An overwhelming majority of Marylanders support fundamental changes to the state’s alcohol laws that govern the production, distribution and sale of beer, according to the results of an online survey released today by Comptroller Peter Franchot.

“Maryland’s current beer laws are dysfunctional and outdated and work to the detriment of consumers and small business,” said Comptroller Franchot in response to the unscientific survey. “Without comprehensive reform, Maryland’s reputation within the national craft brewing industry will continue to suffer. We must have laws that make sense for all the stakeholders and promote economic growth for all three tiers and create the best market for Maryland consumers.”

This past spring, the Comptroller announced the formation of a Reform on Tap Task Force to do a comprehensive review of the state’s antiquated laws governing the manufacturing, distribution and sale of Maryland craft beer. Forty task force members, representing every region of the state from large and small breweries, distributors, restaurants, bars and retailers, consumers and local and state officials have been meeting regularly to discuss issues affecting the industry. As a result of the meetings, an online poll was taken live from August 7 to 11. During that time, 2,472 respondents completed the survey. Below are the questions and the results:

Question 1: What is your opinion on the limits on craft beer production in Maryland law?

  •  72 percent of respondents said there should be no limits on beer production; while an additional 20 percent said they are too low. The remaining 8 percent said they are either too high as they are or that they are “fine” at current levels.

Question 2: What is your opinion of the sales limits in Maryland law?

  •  79 percent of respondents said there should be no sales limits; while 14 percent said these limits are too low. The remaining 7 percent said either they are too high as is or they are “fine” at current levels.

Question 3: What is your opinion of this “buy-back” provision in [HB 1283]?

  •  89 percent of respondents expressed disapproval of the buy-back provision in House Bill 1283; while 4 percent said they approved and 6 percent said they had no opinion.

Question 4: Should the business relationship between the brewer and the distributor be governed by Maryland state franchise law, or should it be subject to a private contract that is negotiated and signed by both parties?

  • 83 percent of respondents said the relationship should be governed by a “negotiated, signed contract”; while 10 said it should be governed by state franchise law and 7 saying they had no opinion on the matter.

Question 5: What is your opinion on Maryland’s current self-distribution law?

  •  72 percent of respondents said there should be no such self-distribution limits, while 18 percent said the limits should be raised. Of those remaining, 7 percent said current law is reasonable, 1 percent said the limits should be lowered and 2 percent said self-distribution should be prohibited altogether in the state.

Question 6: What is your opinion on Maryland’s current “take home” sales limit on one case per customer?

  •  66 percent of respondents said there should be no take-home limit while 25 percent answered that the existing limit is too low and should be raised. Of those remaining, 8 percent said the existing limit is reasonable, 1 percent said take-home sales in the state should be prohibited altogether and lest than 1 percent said the existing limit is too high and should be lowered.

Media Contacts: Joseph Shapiro, 410-260-7305 (office), 443-871-2244 (cell)
Alan Brody, 410-6346 (office), 443-924-1473 (cell)

Four Marylanders Discover More Than $564,000 in Unclaimed Property

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 9, 2017) – Four Maryland residents – two from Baltimore and one each from Hyattsville and La Plata – have joined the list of this year’s Unclaimed Property recipients who have been identified with accounts as part of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s annual publication. The four separate claims total more than $564,000 from a list published this spring and distributed in newspapers statewide. The publication included more than 80,000 new unclaimed property accounts worth more than $61 million.

The latest recipients include a Baltimore woman with an insurance account of more than $241,000, a Baltimore man with an $80,000 account and a La Plata man with a $157,200 account. Those cases involved estates of family members. The three recipients asked not to be identified.

The fourth recipient, Harry Yeide III of Hyattsville, was notified of more than $85,000 that had been passed from his late father to his mother, who passed away earlier this year. The Unclaimed Property unit sent a letter to Mr. Yeide informing him of the account’s existence. He said his father had had several accounts and this one had been unknown. The discovered Unclaimed Property funds will be dispersed to his mother’s beneficiaries.

“I was super impressed by the proactive outreach by the Unclaimed Property unit,” Mr. Yeide said. “It made me feel good as a Maryland taxpayer.”

Earlier this summer, a Bethesda woman claimed more than $100,000 in a listed bank account. Since January, 33,695 claimants have received funds worth nearly $51.7 million.

“This is welcome news for these Unclaimed Property recipients and I’m glad my Unclaimed Property staff were able to make the connection to pass along this good news to the rightful owners, “Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “I encourage everyone to check the unclaimed property insert or to visit marylandtaxes.com to look for your name.”

This year, Comptroller Franchot appears on the cover of the insert in The Franchot Zone (or Unclaimed Property cache) full of possessions and financial payoffs that banks, insurance companies and financial institutions were unable to return to the rightful owners. Any of the goods not claimed by their owners eventually go to the state. Visit the Comptroller’s YouTube channel to watch his newest video (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5LayKI2wzE).

Along with the unclaimed property list, which is published annually as required by law, the Comptroller’s Office also searches tax records to try and locate property owners. In addition, the agency has a booth at the Maryland State Fair, and other events throughout the year, to allow people to check the unclaimed property database.
Marylanders also can check to see if their name is on the unclaimed property list through the Comptroller’s website. Here’s how:

• Go to marylandtaxes.com
• Enter your name in the agency’s database
• Claim your property

Financial institutions, insurance companies and corporations are required to notify the Comptroller’s Office of any property that has gone unclaimed, or without activity, for more than three years. This is usually wages, bank accounts, stocks or dividends, life insurance policies or from safe deposit boxes. When the Comptroller’s Office receives property that isn’t monetary, as required by state law, the items are appraised and the auctioned off on eBay (www.ebay.com/usr/mdcompfranchot). The proceeds are held for the owner in perpetuity. Funds are available to be claimed at any time, with no statute of limitations and are not subject to taxes.

Franchot urges anyone who finds his or her name on the list to contact his office at 410-767-1700 (Central Maryland), or toll-free at 1-800-782-7383, to find out how to reclaim their lost property.

The Comptroller’s Office honored nearly 43,225 claims totaling more than $62 million in Fiscal Year 2016. Since 2007, the Comptroller’s Office has returned more than $585 million in unclaimed property. In total, the agency has more than 1.2 million accounts worth more than $1.5 billion in its Unclaimed Property accounts.
To search the Unclaimed Property database online, visit www.marylandtaxes.com.

 

Media Contacts: Joe Shapiro, 410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (cell)
Alan Brody, 410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (cell)

 

IRS Begins Issuing Notices to Taxpayers Whose ITINs Expire by End of 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 9, 2017) —The Internal Revenue Service is mailing letters this month to more than 1 million taxpayers with expiring Individual Taxpayer ‎Identification Numbers and urges recipients to renew them as quickly as possible to avoid tax refund and processing delays.

ITINs with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 are set to expire at the end of 2017. The notice being mailed — CP-48 Notices, You must renew your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file your U.S. tax return — explains the steps taxpayers need to take to renew the ITIN if it will be included on a U.S. tax return filed in 2018.

The notices will be issued over a five-week period. Taxpayers who receive the notice but have acted to renew their ITIN do not need to take further steps unless another family member is affected.

Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years will expire Dec. 31, 2017, and as mentioned above, ITINs with middle digits 70, 71, 72 or 80 will also expire at the end of the year.

Affected taxpayers who expect to file a tax return in 2018 must submit a renewal application.

As a reminder, ITINs with middle digits 78 and 79 that expired at the end of last year can be renewed at any time.

To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must fill out a Form W-7 and submit all required documentation. For more information, visit www.irs.gov.

 

Comptroller Extends Tax and Motor Fuel Due Dates for Licensees and Emergency Responders

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 8, 2017) – In the wake of a likely tornado tearing up parts of southern Salisbury in Wicomico County Monday afternoon, Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced extended due dates for a variety of tax and motor fuel payments for companies and emergency responders affected by the storm.

“It was inspiring to see business leaders, first responders, volunteers and concerned citizens come together Monday as the storm struck to protect, assist and check on one another,” Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “Our primary focus now is to make sure businesses and individuals affected by this storm can focus on cleaning up and rebuilding their community. My office stands ready to assist and to ease any burdens we can.”

The Comptroller’s Office has extended the due dates for Monthly Business Filers for July Activity as follows:

Tax Type:                                           Due Date:       Extended to:

Sales & Use                                        August 20       September 20

Admission & Amusement                     August 10       September 10

Withholding                                        August 15       September 15

Alcohol                                               August 10       September 10

Beer                                                   August 15       September 15

Maryland Motor Fuel Tax license holders in Wicomico County have a one-month extension to file their July 2017 motor fuel tax returns; they are now due by September 30, 2017. A waiver of interest and penalties will be granted to licensees who file and pay by the new due date. Certain IFTA requirements are also temporarily waived for shippers and carriers of essential emergency relief supplies, or to those that are providing restoration of utilities to the affected area.

Wicomico County businesses with questions about Motor Fuels extensions can call Nathan Essey at 410-260-7498 or email nessey@comp.state.md.us. For other tax-related questions, individuals may call 410-260-7980 (from Central Maryland) or 1-800-MD-TAXES, or email taxhelp@comp.state.md.us. Businesses may call the Tax Practitioner Hotline at 410-260-7424.

MEDIA CONTACT: Barbara Sauers, 410-260-7438 (office); 410-212-9410 (cell

Comptroller Accepting Nominations for the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 7, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that his office is once again accepting nominations for the 2017 William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award. The deadline for submitting nominations is August 31. Comptroller Franchot will personally present the award to each recipient, beginning in November.

Established in 2012, the award honors the unparalleled legacy of public service left by former Mayor, Governor and Comptroller Schaefer and is presented in each of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City to individuals and organizations with an unwavering commitment to helping people.

“William Donald Schaefer was a role model for many citizens and organizations helping neighbors and strangers throughout our great state,” Comptroller Franchot said. “Every day, hundreds of Marylanders sacrifice their own time to aid vulnerable populations or those in need. It is a privilege to recognize their selfless contributions.”

Award recipients will be selected on their demonstration of:

• Improving the community;
• Promptly responding to a citizen problem through effective government intervention;
• Directly aiding our most vulnerable populations; or,
• Establishing a public/private partnership to improve the lives of fellow Marylanders.

Nominations submitted earlier this year do not need to be resubmitted.
Call 410-260-7300 if you have additional questions.

Nomination forms can be found here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Alan Brody, 410-260-6346 (office), 443-924-1473 (cell)

 

Comptroller Franchot Warns Tax Pros of New Scam to Steal Usernames and Passwords

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 4, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot is alerting tax professionals and those working within the tax industry about a new phishing email scam impersonating tax software providers and attempting to steal usernames and passwords.

The Internal Revenue Service said this latest scam email variation comes with a subject line of “Software Support Update” and highlights an “Important Software System Upgrade.” It thanks recipients for continuing to trust the software provider to serve their tax preparation needs and mimics the software providers’ email templates.

The e-mail informs the recipients that due to a recent software upgrade, the preparer must revalidate their login credentials. It provides a link to a fictitious website that mirrors the software provider’s actual login page. Instead of upgrading software, the tax professionals are providing their information to cybercriminals who use the stolen credentials to access the preparers’ accounts and to steal client information.

“Cybercriminals never rest and are always trying to get at Maryland taxpayers’ money,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “We need every tax professional and taxpayer to keep a close eye on emails that they receive and to make sure every precaution is taken to prevent becoming a victim of these scammers.”

This sophisticated scam yet again displays cybercriminals’ tax savvy and underscores the need for tax professionals to take strong security measures to protect their clients and protect their business. This is the time of year when many software providers issue software upgrades and when tax professionals are working to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for extension filers.

The Security Summit reminds tax professionals that software providers do not embed links into emails asking them to validate passwords. Also, tax professionals and taxpayers are advised to never open a link or an attachment from a suspicious email.

Tax professionals who receive emails purportedly from their tax software providers seeking login credentials should send those scam emails to their tax software provider.

For Windows users, follow this process to help the investigation of these scam emails:

1. Use “Save As” to save the scam. Under “save as type” in the drop-down menu, select “plain text” and save to the desktop. Do not click on any links.
2. Open a new email and attach this saved email as a file.
3. Send a new email containing the attachment to the tax software provider, as well as a copy to Phishing@IRS.gov.

The Comptroller’s Office reminds taxpayers not to reply to emails or phone calls asking for confidential information, most especially Social Security numbers, birth dates, salary information or home addresses. Maryland taxpayers may call 1-800-MD-TAXES or send an email to mdcomptroller@comp.state.md.us to report a problem.

MEDIA CONTACT: Joe Shapiro, 410-260-7438 (office), 443-871-2244 (cell)
Alan Brody, 410-260-6346 (office), 443-924-1473 (cell)

Comptroller, Md. Retailers Announce Social Media Contest for Tax-Free Week, Aug. 13-19

EASTON, Md. (July 31, 2017) – Comptroller Peter Franchot joined with the Maryland Retailers Association today to announce a new contest coinciding with Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week that will see two winners receive $1,500 and $500 scholarships, respectively, to any Maryland university, college or trade school. Comptroller Franchot will also visit 9/10 Condition Sneaker Boutique in Baltimore on Tuesday at 1 p.m. to promote tax-free week and the contest.

Leading up to and during the annual Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week, which takes place August 13 to 19, shoppers should like or follow the official social media pages on Facebook (Shop Maryland Tax Free), Twitter (@shopmdtaxfree) and Instagram (@shopmdtaxfree).

Then during the tax-free week, take a picture, write a creative caption and use #shopmdtaxfree to submit an entry on any or all of the social media platforms.

After tax-free week ends, the Maryland Retailers Association, which is providing the scholarships, will select the two entries that best reflect the spirit of Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week.

“This year, Marylanders can not only save money during tax-free week, but they have the opportunity to win a big scholarship, while supporting local businesses, all with a few clicks on their phone,” said Comptroller Franchot. “It’s so easy to participate, and the scholarships being provided by the Maryland Retailers Association are a great incentive to help defray the cost of tuition.”

            “Tax-free week provides a much-needed boost to brick-and-mortar retailers in our state and we encourage all consumers to support their local businesses,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “This year we are thrilled to help promote shopping local and tax-free week by offering scholarships to our contest winners.”

During tax-free week, any single qualifying article of clothing or footwear priced $100 or less – regardless of how many items are purchased at the same time – will be exempt from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. New this year is the addition of backpacks and bookbags to the list of tax-exempt items, although it only applies to the first $40 of the purchase.

In the weeks leading up to and during Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week, the Comptroller will join the Maryland Retailers Association at promotional events across the state to encourage shoppers to take advantage of these savings and to participate in the contest.

To get the latest details about Tax-Free Week and to enter the contest, like or follow the social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And be sure to check out the promotional video for the Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week contest.

Resulting from legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2007, the tax-free week is held annually during the second week in August.  Businesses selling items that are not eligible for inclusion in the tax-free week can still participate in Shop Maryland. Under “Sellers Privilege,” other unqualified merchandise can be sold tax-free, but the retailer is responsible for paying the sales tax owed to the state.

For more information on qualifying items, visit www.marylandtaxes.com, email taxhelp@comp.state.md.us or call 410-260-7980 in Central Maryland or toll-free at 1-800-MD-TAXES.

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MEDIA CONTACTS:         Joe Shapiro, 410-260-7305 (office), 443-871-2244 (cell)

Baltimore Woman Sentenced in Tax Fraud Scheme

BALTIMORE, Md. (July 28, 2017) – Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Michele Jaklitsch sentenced Rochelle Cunningham, 46, of Baltimore City to five years’ probation before judgment and ordered $77,983.06 in restitution. Cunningham previously pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft scheme having a value of more than $500. 

Between January 2005 and April 2009, Cunningham was part of a scheme that involved the filing of fraudulent Maryland individual tax returns using stolen identities. During that time period, $77,983.06 in stolen tax refunds flowed through bank accounts Cunningham controlled. Among other things, Cunningham used the stolen tax refund money to pay for personal expenses, including clothes, food, car payments, phone payments and life insurance payments.

Attorney General Frosh and Comptroller Franchot commended the investigative efforts of the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement and Revenue Administration Divisions. The case was prosecuted by the Fraud and Corruption Unit of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Media Contacts:

Joseph Shapiro, 410-260-7305 (office), 443-871-2244 (cell), Comptroller’s Office

Raquel Coombs, 410-576-6357, Office of the Attorney General