Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Carmel on the Case: Tax Cheats
Pompano Beach just got a big gift from the county's property appraiser. An investigation uncovered tens of millions of dollars in bogus tax exemptions. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Steve Rabbe is one of 13 full time investigators for the Broward County Property Appraiser's office.
Steve Rabbe, Appraiser's Investigator: "We go out, we canvass the neighborhood, talk to the neighbors."
They earn their pay. In the last five years they have returned 18 billion dollars to the tax rolls from people who do not qualify for tax exemptions.
Lori Parrish started checking Homestead Exemptions when she was elected five years ago. She says its not complicated.
Lori Parrish, Broward Property Appraiser: "And I think those that cheat the system 99 percent of them knowingly do it."
The City of Pompano Beach is the latest to be audited by the appraiser.
563 cases of improper exemptions.
58 million in assessed home values put back on the tax roll.
And a million dollars in back taxes being assessed.
It's money the mayor says his city really needs.
Mayor Lamar Fisher: "The city of Pompano Beach is just ecstatic to be able to put over a million dollars back in our coffers in these difficult times were are having. It could actually save a job or two."
The majority of bogus tax exemptions come from folks whose primary homes are in other states, but they claim exemptions here too.
Steve Raabe: "After investigation, I found that the person had an exemption in New York."
That's the case for an owner in this Pompano Beach condo complex.
Steve Raabe: "And with penalties and interest it was about a $54,000 back tax. That's a lot of money. It adds up quick."
Another problem, married couples who each claim an exemption on different properties. The appraiser says that's the case on this house owned by a local attorney. He got hit with back taxes totaling $24,000.
Raabe says in a different case, an owner tried to convince him he didn't know he was married!
Steve Raabe: "I commented to him, if he didn't know he was married, I'm sure his wife would have mentioned it to him."
Another issue, homes that are being used as rental properties.
Lorri Parrish: "Every time somebody cheats the system, it costs all of us an extra penny or a nickel or a dime or a dollar and when you add all things up you know all of us are paying more for those who cheat the system."
Parrish says her office gets the information from record checks and tips from neighbors and others.
Lori Parrish: "Plus ex-girlfriends seem to tell us a lot."
Carmel Cafiero: "So, if you're fibbing on about your Homestead Exemption it's time to come clean. Authorities says you can pay now or pay much more later."IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: