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Fri., Dec. 28, 2012, midnight

Editorial: ’13 could be taxpayers’ year to get money back

Former Idaho state Sen. Phil Hart has for years used specious litigation, legislative privilege and bankruptcy to avoid his state and federal tax obligations. At last, his one-man game of dodge ball may be coming to an end.

A timely, divorce-related transfer of assets and, as a consequence, his alleged poverty, allowed former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson Jr. to bill taxpayers as he conducted a prolonged, futile defense against criminal charges he beat Otto Zehm, then lied to prosecutors about his actions. Federal attorneys are finally taking steps toward breaking down that subterfuge, as well.

For Inland Northwest residents tired of being played for fools by those who are supposed to represent and protect them, ’13 could be a lucky number.

Hart cloaked himself as a patriot while resisting payment of more than $600,000 in state and federal income taxes and penalties. His anti-government nose-thumbing was so brazen he stole state-owned timber to build his home. Her home, that is, because Hart transferred title to a trust for his daughter, knowing the Internal Revenue Service would take title if it remained in his name. Hart still lives there.

In October, a judge ruled Hart had filed a second bankruptcy petition – the first was dismissed earlier this year – in bad faith. That would be an understatement. Hart himself is not saying much, but he has been ordered to submit a deposition by Jan. 7 regarding the federal effort to foreclose on the Athol home, whomever it may belong to.

Hart’s constituents were remarkably, misguidedly tolerant of his anti-tax ruses until ousting him in the May primary. They should be as pleased as the rest of us when his legal house of cards finally collapses, and taxpayers can reclaim the timber.

Thompson, meanwhile, picked taxpayer pockets for more than $800,000 paid Zehm’s estate when the City of Spokane finally settled civil claims stemming from Zehm’s death at the hands of city police officers. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked a U.S. District Court judge to get that money from Thompson, who expended still more in his defense against criminal charges.

Thompson, anticipating an indictment and big legal bills, in 2009 divorced his wife and gave her the most of the couple’s assets. Thus pseudo-impoverished, he got the court to put his legal expenses on the tab of city taxpayers. Nothing about his real financial or conjugal circumstances changed; he and his ex continued to share his “former” home, once valued at $675,000, until he was consigned to federal accommodations for the next four years.

Though jailed, his appeal and legal tab are still running.

Neither Hart nor Thompson deserved the trust the public gave them. Both turned out to be confidence men in the worst sense of that expression.

It will be good if authorities can claw back just a little of the money, if not the faith, invested in them.

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