Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Tax Cheats
As the legislature struggles with what to do about property taxes, and homeowners struggle to pay those taxes efforts are underway in South Florida to find money by finding those who aren't paying their fair share. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- There's no doubt taxes are inevitable, but an astonishing number of people here in South Florida have been avoiding paying their fair share.
Lori Parrish: "I mean, I can't believe so many people aren't honest."
Lori Parrish is Broward County's property appraiser. People in her department have found so many cheats they've added more than a billion dollars of property value to the tax rolls.
Lori Parrish: "And in just the first 12 days of the month of June, they have back taxed $1.8 million."
And how do they find these people? Parrish tells us they check claims for Homestead exemptions and death certificates. Some property owners who have inherited a home are getting away with paying lower taxes because the county simply isn't aware the owner is deceased, and there are other ways property owners are trying to avoid their taxes.
Lori Parrish: "This house right here had a needy senior exemption."
Carmel Cafiero: "Needy senior?"
Lori Parrish: "With that yacht."
Carmel Cafiero: "What do you think when you see that? Makes your blood boil?"
Lori Parrish: "Ticks me off, and I cleaned up the word for TV."
Carmel Cafiero: "Investigators say they are finding tax cheats at each end of the financial spectrum from mobile home parks all the way to multi-million-dollar condominiums."
Take this mobile home park, for example. Parrish's office says sale prices here were being under-reported. For example, the sale of this home was listed at $55,000 when the actual sales price was $125,000.
Ron Cacciatore: "Huge difference, especially when you have 330 mobile homes in here and the majority, 99 percent, of them have been doing this."
Ron Cacciatore leads the campaign in Broward to catch those not paying their fair share of taxes.
Ron Cacciatore: "Just by re-evaluating this to the true market value and what they sold for, we've put ten million dollars back on the tax roll."
And there are other scams. Some homeowners claim bogus exemptions.
Ron Cacciatore: "It's just so prevalent. It's beyond your imagination."
Often people who live out of state claim they live here and try to file for an exemption. The owner of a $3 million condo in this Broward building was caught doing just that. The appraiser's office says he really lives in Georgia.
Ron Cacciatore: "He's not paying his fair share, so when he doesn't pay his fair share, who does that burden come upon? Us."
And, at a time when property tax relief may take a bite out of government budgets, expect the search for those playing games with the system to get even more intense.
Lori Parrish: "So, as technology improves within our office, we are better prepared to make sure that if you're gaming the system, we'll catch you, we'll catch you quicker."
If that's you, experts say the best thing to do is turn yourself in. At least you can avoid big penalty charges of 50 percent of the unpaid taxes per year!
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