Have you ‘Liked’ Your Comptroller’s Office Today?

- Social Networking and Technology Aids Agency in Reaching Out to Marylanders -

Annapolis, Md. (December 6, 2011) – Comptroller Franchot can already be found attending events throughout Maryland to meet, greet and talk with citizens. But did you know that the agency also has a presence on Facebook, the Web and utilizes quick response (QR) codes?

“Social media sites like Facebook, the ability to use QR codes and our upcoming tax preparer Website is a great way to reach Maryland citizens,” says Comptroller Franchot. He continues, “This technology enables all Marylanders 24/7 access to my office so they can get answers and information about all the programs the office oversees, as well as the all important information during tax season,”

The agency’s Facebook page provides Marylanders necessary tax information and links as well as updates, articles and photos from various events the Comptroller attends throughout the state.

The Comptroller’s Office is moving forward with the latest technology to provide ‘instant’ access to information and services the agency has to offer.

While taxpayers have been able to file their taxes electronically for years, they can now receive their 1099G forms electronically. Every taxpayer who received a refund or credit from the state for the previous tax year and had itemized deductions receives a 1099G. Citizens who opt to receive the form electronically will be removed from the mailing list to receive paper copies. This ecologically friendly initiative could save the state $60,000 in postage and printing costs in the first year.

The agency is also embracing QR codes to help taxpayers quickly access tax information. QR codes are for smartphone users, on the go, who want another option for contacting the Comptroller of Maryland. The Comptroller’s Office plans to put the codes in a variety of places including on:

Paper Form 502D (Individual Estimated Tax) to provide a hard link to online services page to electronically file estimated taxes;

  • Front of the resident tax packet to provide a link to the refund inquiry page;
  • In the withholding tax and sales tax coupon booklet to provide a link to the email address to request a continuation of receiving paper coupon booklets;
  • On over one million Forms 1099G to provide a link to the website where taxpayers can register to receive future Forms 1099G electronically;
  • On posters and informational handouts in branch offices that address MVA license holds, and in MVA offices;
  • On payment vouchers that accompany paper checks for tax returns that have been submitted electronically to expedite processing

Other future plans include the creation of a tax preparer’s Website. The site will allow authorized preparers, with permission, access to their clients’ tax return information. The preparer will be able to view their clients estimated tax history, upload W-2 information and, eventually, access tax payment history.

The Comptroller’s Website can be found at http://www.marylandtaxes.com/default.asp and also visit his Facebook page.

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

Comptroller Franchot is Shopping Maryland

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

Annapolis, Md. (November 28, 2011) – Thanksgiving is over, and while many are still eating leftovers, Comptroller Franchot today visited Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore to help kick off his annual holiday ‘Shop Maryland for the Holidays’ tour through the state.

“Shop Maryland for the Holidays is a way to encourage Marylanders to shop in state and support their communities for the holiday gift giving season,” says Comptroller Franchot. “I encourage Marylanders to get off the Internet and patronize local businesses. You can get great deals and help the more than 500,000 Marylanders employed in our state’s retail sector.” he added.

According to the President of the Maryland Retail Association, Patrick Donoho, retail is directly and indirectly responsible for 16% of Maryland’s gross domestic product (GDP), or about $44 million.

Mondawmin Mall is the first of seven stops on the Comptroller’s tour to promote the great retailers and community shopping areas throughout the state. Comptroller Franchot will visit other communities in the coming weeks such as Annapolis (Anne Arundel County), Easton (Talbot County), Hunt Valley (Baltimore County), Hagerstown (Washington County), Queenstown (Queen Anne’s County) and Salisbury (Wicomico County).

The Comptroller also reminds consumers that in state shopping puts citizens’ hard earned money back into their communities and also supports local businesses that employ our friends and neighbors.

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

Caught in the Web: Comptroller Exposes Maryland’s Top 50 Tax Cheats

-Franchot Releases Names of Scofflaws Owing Nearly $21 Million-

Annapolis, Md. (November 17, 2011) – Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced the names of 25 businesses and 25 individuals owing nearly $21 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. The Comptroller’s Caught in the Web program lists the names of these 50 scofflaws on the agency’s Website, which is a final effort to get them to pay their egregious tax liabilities.

“The Comptroller’s Office is committed to ensuring that all taxpayers pay their fair share and the vast majority of Marylanders do,” said Comptroller Franchot. “This program highlights the small subset of Marylanders who enjoy the benefits of this great state, but make conscientious efforts to avoid paying their taxes.” Created to send a message to those who have ignored all attempts by the state to collect overdue taxes, the program names the 50 worst delinquents owing the largest amounts in back taxes on the agency’s Website for six months or until payment has been received or a payment plan is set up.

Since the program’s inception in 2000, the agency has collected more than $26.5 million from delinquent taxpayers whose names appeared on one of the Caught in the Web lists. The most recent Caught in the Web list includes liabilities of nearly $5.8 million in back taxes, penalties and interest from 25 individuals and more than $15 million from 25 businesses. Initially, the Comptroller’s Office sends a letter to a delinquent taxpayer listing any unpaid charges incurred for taxes, interest and penalties and asking for return correspondence.

Should the taxpayer fail to pay, enter into a payment plan, or provide a qualifying reason for having not yet paid, the Comptroller’s Office may then:

  • file a lien
  • garnish wages
  • prevent renewal of state business licenses
  • prevent renewal of professional and occupational licenses
  • attach assets (including bank accounts)
  • intercept state and federal tax refunds
  • file an estimated assessment for taxes due in unreported periods
  • issue a summons to appear at a hearing to revoke a sales tax license or initiate other legal processes
  • suspend state payments if the taxpayer does business with the state

Taxpayers, who either fail to contact the agency to satisfy their tax liability or enter into an agreement to do so, are then eligible to be included in the Caught in the Web program. These individuals and businesses are notified prior to the list’s posting that they will be included.

Media Contact: Caron Brace, 410-260-7438; office, 410-212-9414, cell

Maryland Reaches a Tax Filing Milestone

- Westminster Resident is Maryland’s Two Millionth E-filer -

Annapolis, Md. (October 18, 2011) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that for the first time ever, his agency received its two millionth electronically-filed tax return from a resident of Westminster, Md.

“Thanks to this taxpayer and many others like her, Maryland is marking a significant accomplishment, not only for the Comptroller’s office but for the entire state. More people are getting the message that e-filing is the best way to go when filing taxes. It’s simple to do, it saves time and money, and helps the environment.” says Comptroller Franchot.

E-filing is a safe and easy way to also ensure your tax returns arrive on time. Each taxpayer who files an electronic return instead of paper saves the state roughly $1.60, and can generally expect to receive their refund deposited into their bank in three business days.

Baltimore based Stoy Malone Company, PC prepared the noteworthy return. Company shareholder Jeff Lawson says the company has been a proponent of e-filing since the mid to late 90’s. “What’s surprising is the amount of older clients who have embraced the e-file method over paper filing. Initially there was some hesitation, but once they realize they don’t have to go to the post office to mail the return they quickly embrace e-file.”

Through the Comptroller’s Website, Maryland taxpayers can file their personal, business or nonresident tax returns along with most associated schedules and forms for free. Taxpayers can also electronically file their return by going to a paid preparer or using commercial tax software. More than nine million taxpayers have e-filed since the program started in the 1990s. Comptroller Franchot’s goal is to get all Marylanders e-filing sooner rather than later.

Taxpayers who want to check on the status of their refund should visit the agency’s online refund status service at www.marylandtaxes.com. Be sure to have a copy of the return on hand to verify information.

Tax season 2011 will be here before you know it and the Comptroller’s office is urging more Marylanders to e-file. It’s simple, fast, and you get your tax refund back in less time than traditional paper filing. The Comptroller’s 12 branch offices, throughout the state, also offer free tax preparation. For more information, visit www.marylandtaxes.com, to find out how easy it is to e-file and find the branch office near you or call Taxpayer Services at 410-260-7980 in Central Maryland or toll-free at 1-800-638-2937 from elsewhere.

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

Comptroller’s Agents Continue to Crackdown on Cigarette Smuggling, Arrest Four Individuals

-More Than $100k Worth of Contraband Cigarettes Seized-

Annapolis, Md. (October 5, 2011) – Continuing in his efforts to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling tobacco tax evasion tactics, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division confiscated more than 17,000 packs of the contraband cigarettes. In addition to seizing the approximately $103,000 worth of contraband cigarettes, Comptroller’s agents arrested four people in four separate cases within less than one week’s time.

“I’d like to commend my agents for their vigilance,” said Comptroller Franchot. “Each day, they travel throughout the state to enforce the state’s tax laws. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those who blatantly disregard Maryland’s tobacco laws thus protecting law-abiding businesses and keeping our communities free of contraband.” The details of each case are as follows:

  • Tuesday, October 4 (Case #1): Comptroller’s agents seized 4,950 packs of illegal cigarettes, valued at nearly $30,000, after Sergeant Michael Connor of the Maryland State Police (MSP) stopped a vehicle on Interstate 95 in Cecil County for a traffic violation. Agents arrested the driver, 30-year-old Zakaria Baloune of Woodbridge, VA. Additionally, officials confiscated a 2003 Dodge Caravan.
  • Thursday, September 29 (two separate cases):
    (Case #2): While conducting surveillance, Comptroller’s agents witnessed an individual purchase multiple quantities of cigarettes from various locations in Virginia and proceed into Maryland. The officers stopped the vehicle on U.S. 13 in Somerset County, finding 3,085 packs of illegal cigarettes, worth nearly $18,500. Agents arrested the driver of the vehicle, Isam Mohammad Abdelmuti, a 45-year-old resident of Secaucus, NJ and seized a 2008 Mercury Marquis.
    (Case #3): After making a routine traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Harford County, MSP Trooper Novak observed numerous packs of cigarettes in the vehicle and requested the assistance of the Comptroller’s agents. Officials seized 3,753 packs of cigarettes, worth approximately $22,500, as well as a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria. Officials arrested 50-year-old Mark Fondelli of Astoria, NY.
  • Thursday, September 28 (Case #4): Working closely with the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board (NVCTB) and the United States Park Police (USPP), Comptroller’s agents stopped an NYDC Express tour bus on Interstate 295 in Anne Arundel County. A ticketed passenger, Zein Ishakh Mahboubi, was removed from the bus and the luggage compartment searched. Officials seized seven suitcases containing 5,279 packs of contraband cigarettes worth nearly $32,000.

“I’d like to thank the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, the Maryland State Police and the United States Park Police for their invaluable assistance in these cases,” said Comptroller Franchot. “My agency has great partnerships with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and municipal levels which allow my agents to be vigilant as we work to enforce Maryland’s tax laws.”

All four individuals have 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 years imprisonment; and the possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.

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

Fairgoers Find More than Funnel Cakes With More Than $24k in Unclaimed Funds Uncovered

- Marylanders at Local Festivals Find Forgotten Property and Money-

Annapolis, Md. (October 4, 2011) – County fairs often conjure up images of rides, funnel cakes and baby farm animals. But every year, one of the more popular attractions at the various Maryland fairs and festivals is Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Unclaimed Property booth. This year was no different with more than 800 people finding lost money at events across the state.

The Comptroller’s Office staff most recently visited fairs in Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Frederick and Prince George’s County reuniting fairgoers with over $24,000 in unclaimed property and funds.

“I love being able to give money back to the citizens of Maryland, and this program helps to make it possible. Many in our state continue to suffer the effects of our nation’s recession, and giving someone money they weren’t expecting, even a small amount, could potentially make things easier for residents. Maryland is one of the few state comptrollers’ offices that aggressively pursue unclaimed property in efforts to reunite people with lost or forgotten funds and property.” Staff of the Comptroller’s unclaimed property unit are on hand at local events across the state throughout the year.

The final four events of the summer season produced a combined 864 people over 15 days stopping by the Comptroller’s booth to search for unclaimed property. The biggest finds were at the Anne Arundel County Fair and The Great Frederick Fair where lucky attendees discovered they were on the Comptroller’s list and had a combined $4 thousand of property waiting to be claimed.

Financial institutions, utilities, insurance companies and other corporations are required to report to the Comptroller any bank accounts, security deposits, wages, stocks, insurance benefits and contents of safe deposit boxes that haven’t had any activity or have been unclaimed after three years.

The Comptroller also searches for unclaimed property owners through outreach via ads in local newspapers and matching names with state income tax information, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles. Think you may have unclaimed property? Comptroller Franchot invites everyone to log onto his Web site, www.marylandtaxes.com, to search the agency’s extensive records of unclaimed funds. Additionally, people can call the office at 410-767-1700 in Central Maryland or toll-free at 1-800-782-7383 from elsewhere.

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

Comptroller Launches Financial Literacy Petition Drive

-Franchot Sets Goal at 10,000 Signatures for Personal Finance Education-

Annapolis, Md. (September 29, 2011) –Comptroller Peter Franchot joined students, teachers, parents and representatives from the local business community this week to launch his statewide petition drive for comprehensive financial literacy education for all Maryland students.

For the past several years, the Comptroller has led a bipartisan coalition calling for legislation that requires Maryland’s public school students to pass a standalone course in financial literacy in order to graduate from high school. In each of the last two years, the bills have passed the Maryland Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates. The Comptroller hopes to deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, 2012.

“In light of our country’s long-term economic recession, it is essential that we provide our children with a solid foundation of financial literacy before they graduate from high school,” said Comptroller Franchot.

Currently, Talbot, Allegany, Carroll and Charles counties require students to pass a standalone course in personal finance prior to graduation. The Comptroller believes that the remaining 20 school systems should follow suit. “Before we hand our kids a diploma and send them into the world to start building their future, we need to do everything we can to help them understand credit scores, loans, balancing checkbooks and building household budgets,” said Comptroller Franchot.

In the first days of the campaign, more than 2,500 signatures have been gathered including many from high school students. Any supporter of personal finance can sign the petition which can be found on the Comptroller’s Web site by clicking here. The Comptroller will be promoting this campaign at events around the state including the opening of a student-run bank at Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County on Monday, October 3.

MEDIA CONTACT: Christine Feldmann, 410-260-6346 (office)

Comptroller, State’s Attorney Name Nine Individuals Indicted in Cigarette Smuggling Cases

-Comptroller Agents Seized More Than 14K Packs, Worth Nearly $90K-

Upper Marlboro, MD (September 22, 2011) – Comptroller Peter Franchot, alongside Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks, announced today that a grand jury has indicted* nine people on charges of possessing and transporting contraband cigarettes in Maryland. The indictments are the result of a stepped-up enforcement effort spearheaded by the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement agents to reduce cigarette smuggling in and through Maryland.

The most recent set of indictments include nine individuals who were involved in five unrelated incidents of cigarette smuggling. A total of 14,875 packs of illegal cigarettes were seized, worth nearly $89,000. If purchased in Maryland, the cigarettes would have required a payment of $29,750 in taxes.

“The tax loss to the state as a result of cigarette smuggling operations is a slap in the face to the law-abiding businesses in Maryland,” said Comptroller Franchot. “During the last fiscal year, we seized nearly $1.2 million worth of cigarettes; and, not only three months into the new fiscal year, have we already seized more than $600,000 worth of cigarettes. My office will continue to partner with other agencies to aggressively go after tax scofflaws who blatantly disregard our laws.”

Cigarette smugglers take advantage of the different tax rates that states impose on cigarettes. In Maryland, the tax is $2 per pack. Although it varies from area to area, the tax in Virginia is much lower, while it is considerably higher in states like New York and New Jersey. Smugglers like those charged visit low-tax states like Virginia, purchase cigarettes and illegally sell them in higher-tax states.

The Comptroller of Maryland is responsible for enforcing tobacco laws in the state. This includes controlling the transportation of contraband cigarettes through the state. It is a felony to transport cigarettes for which the Maryland tax has not been paid in the state, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $50 per carton of contraband cigarettes. The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecuting these cases originating in the county.

“Individuals who are involved in cigarette smuggling are taking money out of the public treasury. This can impact on our ability to provide critical services like education, transportation and health care to citizens,” said State’s Attorney Alsobrooks. “We are not going to tolerate that in our county and state.”

In July and August, enforcement agents from the Comptroller’s Office were alerted by Virginia officials that a number of out-of-state individuals, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents, were purchasing large quantities of cigarettes in Virginia with the intent to transport them to other states.

Working together, the Virginia and Maryland enforcement officers were able to monitor the smugglers as they purchased cigarettes in Virginia and then to follow them from Virginia into Maryland. At that point, the would-be smugglers were stopped, arrested and taken into custody by enforcement officers working for the Comptroller. The illegal cigarettes and the vehicles involved were seized.

Assistant State’s Attorney Doyle Niemann, a prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit, will be the lead prosecutor for these cases. The names, ages and towns where the people who have been indicted live are as follows:

  1. Jose Gilberto Perez, 53, of Baltimore, MD
  2. Eredania Perez-De-Hernandez, 41, of Baltimore, MD
  3. Maoze Abdallh Ibrahim, 26, of East Orange, NJ
  4. Abdoulaye Akmoudou, 41, of Newark, NJ
  5. Alicia Walker, 34, of Bloomfield, NJ
  6. Livinus Agubu, 39, of the Bronx, NY
  7. Felix Cruz, of the Bronx, NY
  8. Feby Pledger, 45, Far Rockaway, NY
  9. Bernard Cribbs, 58, Far Rockaway, NY

*A grand jury is an impartial panel of ordinary citizens. An indictment issued by a grand jury is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceeding. The grand jury determines whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. In the grand jury process, a prosecutor presents evidence to the grand jury and the grand jury independently decides whether that evidence is enough to move forward to trial.

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

New Maryland Revenue Estimates Released

-Comptroller Urges Caution as Economy Remains Volatile-

Annapolis, MD (September 21, 2011) — Emphasizing the historic volatility in the economy and a slowing economic growth rate, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates (BRE) today released the updated revenue estimates for and the first official estimates for fiscal year 2013. The Board submitted a revised estimate of general fund revenues for fiscal year 2012 of $14.105 billion and an estimate of $14.494 billion for fiscal year 2013. The fiscal year 2012 estimate represents an increase of $195 million over the March estimate, upon which the fiscal year 2012 budget was based.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, chairman of the BRE, issued the following statement regarding the latest estimates: “While I am pleased that we are writing up the FY 2012 estimates by $195 million, it is very important to put these numbers in their proper context. This increase is due to an unexpectedly strong increase in individual income tax collections, but those increases came from the first half of the fiscal year back in 2010. We are revising down our sales tax and corporate income tax estimates leaving us with a revised forecast that assumes much slower growth than we had previously expected in 2012 and 2013.

This should be no surprise as it reflects the fact that the national economy has lost momentum in recent months, that the nation’s much-anticipated economic recovery never really took hold, and that a double-dip recession is a far more possible now than it was six months ago. The three legs of the stool in a consumer-powered economy are jobs, housing and consumer confidence and all three of those indicators are going in the wrong direction. The nation’s unemployment rate is currently 9.1 percent, which doesn’t include those who are underemployed or have dropped out of the job market altogether. Nationally, first-time unemployment claims rose in the first full week of September to the highest level since late June. And while the state of Maryland’s unemployment rate remains considerably below the national average, it did tick upward to 7.3 percent in the month of August.

According to recent surveys, more than 60 percent of Americans are concerned that they, or someone else in their household, will be losing their job in the next year. Let me state the obvious – those folks aren’t going to be heading out to buy new washing machines, deck furniture, or hardwood floors anytime soon. They are hunkering down. National home foreclosure activity went up seven percent in the month of August, and default notices went up 33 percent — likely reflecting that after an extended delay in the foreclosure process by courts, governments and lenders alike, banks are resuming the process in earnest.

Thanks to steps taken by the state under Governor O’Malley’s leadership, Maryland has in fact fared better on the foreclosure front than many other states but the economy continues to take a toll on our families. Mortgage delinquencies in Maryland rose in the second quarter of 2011 and one out of every four MD homeowners were “underwater” on their mortgages this spring. Is it any wonder that the Consumer Confidence Index fell in August and is at its lowest level since April 2009?

It is also worth noting that these revenue estimates assume an extension of both unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax reduction. Both of those are set to expire at the end of the year and if they are not extended, that will have an adverse impact on the economic forecast. In addition, we are all keeping our fingers crossed to see what the actions, or lack thereof, from the Congressional Super Committee will mean for our nation and our state.

We’re a great state with great assets, and I’m proud that we have continued to make sound strategic investments in our economic future, even during tough times. However, given this extraordinary degree of economic volatility and given the growing likelihood that conditions will worsen before they begin to turn around, I would strongly encourage our state’s leaders to proceed with the highest possible degree of caution as they prepare the upcoming budget and gear up for the 2012 legislative session.”

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

Comptroller Franchot Announces Filing Extension for Taxpayers, Preparers Impacted by Hurricane Irene

Following IRS Lead, State Filers Have One Week Extension

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 7, 2011) – Following the lead of the Internal Revenue Service, Comptroller Peter Franchot today extended the September 15, 2011, filing due date for Maryland taxpayers and their preparers affected by Hurricane Irene. Eligible taxpayers now have until September 22, to file tax returns for personal and business tax filings normally due September 15.

“I empathize with anyone impacted by this disaster,” said Comptroller Franchot. “This extension will assure that any individuals and business in the area are not penalized by an incident that was beyond their control. I remind everyone effected that this provision is only an extension to file, not a postponement to pay.”

The taxpayer or taxpayer’s preparer must be located in an area that was under an evacuation order or a severe weather warning due to Hurricane Irene, even if the preparer is located outside of the federally declared disaster areas. For more information on tax relief in disaster situations, visit www.irs.gov. Taxpayers should continue to visit the Comptroller’s Website at www.marylandtaxes.com for the most updated information on tax relief for Marylanders.

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