The story itself is pretty cut and dried. But the story behind the story is funny. A car dealer in Keyser, W.Va., where I had my first newspaper job at the Mineral Daily News-Tribune, had been in a years-long feud with the county assessors office over the value of the autos on his lot.
The state assesses the value of a company’s property in July. And in 1990, the dealer decided to make amends and approached the county with a stack of invoices representing the autos in his possession as of tax day that year. He said he didn’t want to fight over it, which the assessor appreciated.
However, what he didn’t say was that he had moved more than half of his rolling stock across the Potomac River to Maryland. I got a call one night by someone who said, “Steve, take a drive over to Rawlings and check out the cars and trucks parked over there.”
So I did. And sure enough, the street and a used car dealership was packed with brand spanking new pickups and cars.
Below is the story I wrote about the tax investigation.
News Tribune-Keyser, W.Va., Tuesday, July 3, 1990
Tax Investigation Starts
By Steve Campbell
Mineral County officials are investigating what they think is a possible attempt to evade county property taxes by storing vehicles out of state.
G&G Auto Sales, a used car dealership near Rawlings, has on its lot 33 late model Ford cars and trucks.
The vehicles are parked in a double row on a grassy section of the lot south of the dealer’s office and also in a single row behind the building.
The used car lot is adjacent to Pratt Tires on Route 220 about five miles north of Keyser in Maryland and is owned by Mr. Pratt, who would not reveal his first name when questioned this morning.
Pratt would not say who owned the new Fords on his lot and refused to comment about the investigation.
“I just will not make any comments about any of this. I’m not saying anything,” Pratt said.
The vehicle identification numbers of two of the 33 autos located in the Rawlings car lot match numbers submitted by a local Ford dealer to the Mineral County assessor’s office for 1991 tax purposes.
The identification numbers on none of the other 31 autos stored in Maryland match with the 43 numbers provided to the assessor.
Mineral County prosecuting attorney Lynn A. Nelson said today that it appears there may have been an attempt to hide the cars to avoid the payment of taxes.
“As of this time, it appears as if an effort has been [made] to evade taxes, but the matter is still being investigated. Upon the completion of the investigation, we will decide what to do,” Nelson said.
The matter came to light when a county employee who asked not the identified received a call from a man who bought one of the vehicles at the local dealership and was told last Friday that his truck had been moved and would not be on the lot until Monday.
County assessors were to inspect the dealership last weekend and obtained a list of invoices for autos said to be in the dealership’s possession at the time for tax purposes.
The vehicles on the G&G lot are 1990 Ford Thunderbirds, Tempos, a Grand Marquis and Crown Victoria, and Mustangs as well as many Ford F-150 pickups, Broncos and Rangers. A conservative tax value of the vehicles based on 1989 figures is over $100,000.
Tax evasion is considered a felony, according to the West Virginia state code which provides fines of $1,000 to $10,000 and/or one to three years in prison.
The investigation will continue after Wednesday’s Independence Day holiday.
Officials at the Keyser dealership were unavailable for comment today.