POLITICS

Federal lawyer says taxman didn't single out polygamous leader over taxes

05/03/2012 03:06 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - British Columbia polygamous leader Winston Blackmore is no Al Capone.

And a federal government lawyer dismissed suggestions Canada's taxman is out to get Blackmore in the same way U.S. prosecutors worked to convict the famous 1920s mobster.

In her final arguments Thursday in Blackmore's tax case, Lynn Burch told a Federal Tax Court that the religious leader's taxes weren't re-assessed because he faced polygamy charges, but because he's a taxpayer.

"It would be inappropriate to consider that the taxman is the hammer coming in behind the (B.C.) attorney general. There's simply no evidence of that," she said, referring to the failed polygamy prosecution.

"Mr. Blackmore is not Al Capone. Any suggestion of overlap between the activities of the attorney general and the Minister of National Revenue is not only unfounded, but quite inappropriate."

Frustrated American prosecutors couldn't convict Capone — the leader of a prohibition-era crime gang — on criminal charges and instead a judge convicted him on tax evasion charges.

Blackmore and James Oler were charged with practising polygamy in 2009, but the allegations were thrown out.

The men each lead divided factions of a sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the southeast B.C. community of Bountiful.

The dropped charges prompted the provincial government to launch a constitutional-reference trial on the issue of multiple marriages where a judge later upheld the law forbidding polygamy.

In this case, the federal government alleges Blackmore owes $1.5 million in taxes over five years starting in 2000. His personal income tax during that time rarely went past $30,000.

Blackmore disputed the claim in court saying his community of over 400 residents should have special tax status, similar to those of Hutterite colonies.

But Burch told Federal Tax Court Judge Diane Campbell that Blackmore's community fails to meet every criteria that allows some religious communities to be taxed as a group.

Burch told the judge Blackmore didn't meet the elements that give such religious groups tax status which included working and living together as a group and not owning any property.

Instead, she said Blackmore used his company, J.R. Blackmore and Sons, to pay for the personal and living expenses of his family.

"Mr. Blackmore continued on his merry way using company funds for family purposes, albeit a much larger family than we normally see in the courts," she said.

Blackmore told the trial in earlier testimony that he had 21 wives and fathered 47 children during the tax period in question. A day after he gave that testimony he admitted he forgot one of his wives, and boosted the spouse count to 22.

He was testifying under subpoena as a compelled witness making his testimony inadmissible in any later criminal trial.

The RCMP has been investigating the practices of polygamous marriage in the community for decades, and late last year said they were investigating the community again, but this time over the issue of teen brides being sent over the U.S. border to marry older men.

The trial, which started in January, was to last just three weeks. Instead it has been completed in stops and starts over four months.

Final arguments are expected to be complete on Friday. There's no word on when the judge might give her ruling.