Lynette Sweet and the IRS: The strange story


Lots of people have trouble with the IRS. Almost everyone I know has run afoul of the tax man at some point in time, and the fact that BART Board member and District 10 candidate Lynette Sweet at one point owed the feds $14,500 isn't exactly a major crime.

But there's a part of her story, at least at Matier and Ross present it, that strikes me as odd:

Sweet says she thought the tax lien was cleared up years ago.

She said she cut a deal with the IRS in 2007 to pay $14,500 in back taxes plus interest, in return for additional fines being dropped.

Sweet said she sent the feds a cashier's check and pretty much forgot about it.

The thing is, the IRS never cashed the cashier's check - which, it turns out, was made out to Sweet herself, according to a copy of a 2007 check she provided to us.

IRS spokesman Jesse Weller declined to discuss details of the case, but said: "The IRS does not accept checks - personal or cashier - or money orders made out to individuals. We ask that the payment be made out to the United States Treasury."

Sweet "sent a cashier's check and pretty much forgot about it" -- although the check was never cashed? And she didn't notice? Here's where it gets strange.

Sweet told me that she bought the cashier's check from Wells Fargo, mistakenly made it out to herself and mailed it off to the IRS in 2007. At that point, the money had already come out of her account, so she assumed the debt was paid. But the IRS never cashed the check, since it wasn't made out to the United States Treasury and, of course, the agency couldn't cash a check made out to someone else.

And Wells, she said, never told her that the check hadn't been cashed. (That makes sense, in an odd way; I just talked to a banker who couldn't comment for the record but who comfirmed that cashier's checks are like cash; once the bank issues one it doesn't have any responsibility to call the buyer if the check is never cashed.)

"That's why I don't recommend the use of cashier's checks for tax payments," the banker said. "You want your own hard copy of your payment when it's cashed."

So how come the IRS didn't contact Sweet for three years to tell her the check she sent was invalid? That's not like the IRS I know. Sweet's response: She was using a tax firm to help her with the account, and the notices must have gone there, and those people must never have told her.

And she never knew that she had an IRS lien on her house that had grown to $20,000.

Could be. But what a bizarre story. 

(By the way, I also invited Sweet to come down to the Guardian for an endorsement interview, and she had her campaign manager call to say she'd declined to talk to us. That's pretty unusual behavior, esp. for an elected official. Even Gavin Newsom came to talk to us when he was running for re-election for mayor and we'd been blasting him for four years. Pretty weak.)


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