Tax commission chief under conflict cloud

Son’s company got deal, documents allege

BOISE – Idaho Tax Commission employees say commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow intervened on behalf of his son’s accounting firm over objections from agency workers, according to e-mails and other documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The heavily redacted documents were among those collected by the Idaho attorney general’s office while representing the Tax Commission in a pending lawsuit that alleges commissioners have given politically connected taxpayers secret sweetheart deals for years.

Chigbrow’s son’s firm sent the chairman an e-mail in February seeking to reduce the state-recommended payment plan of $2,000 monthly for a client to $500 per month to satisfy an estimated $50,000 tax bill. The firm later received the reduced plan, over objections from the commission’s staff.

In a written response to questions Wednesday, Chigbrow, an appointee of Republican Gov. Butch Otter, said he has always acted to minimize conflict of interest or any perception of one.

“I was not involved in the case beyond receiving the inquiry from a taxpayer’s representative,” Chigbrow wrote to the AP. “I have always recused myself from any business transactions that involve my former partner, my former accounting firm, or cases that involve my son’s representation of clients.”

Due to the redactions, the identities of all the employees involved in the case weren’t clear.

But the documents obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show that Cordell Chigbrow’s firm – Chigbrow, Ryan and Co. – sent the chairman a message Feb. 24 asking for assistance. It was just days after the firm was rebuffed by agency staff who balked at the reduced payment plan, which would take 10 years to pay off the debt.

“We had offered a payment plan of $500 a month, and this was their response,” according to the e-mail sent to the chairman. “We are wondering what our options are at this point.”

Subsequent e-mails and internal letters indicate Royce Chigbrow and Sam Haws, another commissioner, agreed to the reduced payments. A March 4 e-mail from Haws suggests the chairman approved a letter to Cordell Chigbrow’s client about the plan.

“Royce approved the letter. Thanks. Sam,” according to Haws’ e-mail.

Haws didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Later in the month, when the taxpayer failed to pay other taxes, Tax Commission employees’ e-mails indicate that they kept the chairman informed of efforts to address the situation.

On April 5, when the company still hadn’t brought its payments current, a Tax Commission employee contemplated proceeding with a collection action.

“That’s fine,” wrote another in an e-mail reply. “Just let me know before anything goes out so I can give the Chairman a head’s up.”

Cordell Chigbrow told the AP he has never sought special treatment from the Tax Commission or his father. He said his firm only made the request through his father to make certain it was directed to the appropriate person.

“It’s customary for CPA firms in the Treasure Valley or anywhere to request appeals with the tax commissioners,” Cordell Chigbrow said Monday. “We’re not requesting any special favors for our clients.”

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