RICH JAMES: Powell's tax collection work not rocket science

2013-07-10T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Powell's tax collection work not rocket scienceBy Rich James nwitimes.com
July 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

This is a bit confusing, so let me see if I have this right.

There is a guy named Roosevelt Powell who owns U.S. Research Consultants Inc., a tax-collection firm operated out of a house in Gary.

In 2000, Lake County Board of Commissioners were looking for more revenue -- all the while knowing there were oodles of unpaid taxes floating about the county. So, they hired Powell.

Powell had a great deal of success. Just how much money he raked in depends on whether one talks to Powell or the county.

According to an article by Times reporter Bill Dolan, a county official said in 2002 that Powell was responsible for the county receiving $7.8 million in back taxes. Powell said the figure is more like $20 million.

What Powell did isn’t exactly modern math. He told people to pay. Many did. And the money flowed in with as much as 20 percent going to Powell.

And Powell got rich. We know the county paid him a cool $4 million by 2006. That’s not exactly chump change.

Somewhere along the line, Powell and a couple of accomplices had the delinquent taxes reduced on a piece of Gary property and divvied up a sweet $150,000.

Because that deal seemed too good to be true, the feds dug into it and Powell and company went to jail. Powell also had to pay $215,500 in fines and restitution.

Powell didn’t hang his head after serving almost two years in prison. Nope, he headed right to court when he got out.

The guy who was convicted of ripping off the county on that Gary property deal, filed suit saying the county still owed him more than $1 million in fees for the taxes he collected. The county threw him a bone to settle the issue. Powell didn’t bite.

And now, Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins has backed Powell’s contention that he is owed much more than the county wants to pay.

It somehow seems the county deserves to be in the position it’s in.

Come on, this tax collection stuff isn’t rocket science.

You find out who owes how much money. Then, on very impressive looking letterhead -- as if it came from God himself -- you suggest they won’t get into heaven if they don’t ante up.

And then, just as Powell did, one sits back and counts the money.

I suspect county officials could have hired a few folks to do what Powell did at a tiny fraction of the cost. That’s what Porter County did.

There’s only one problem with doing it in-house. Lake County Commissioners wouldn’t have been able to send a pile of fundraising tickets to Powell’s company when it came time for re-election.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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