Court orders Tri-County Newspapers into tax law compliance by Nov. 24

Roxie Murphy

Tri-County Newspapers owner Kurt J. Lewis was ordered Nov. 3 by Judge John D. Beger to become compliant with Missouri tax laws, and acquire a retail sales tax license and any necessary county or business licenses by Nov. 24, 2017 — or cease making sales at retail as Tri-County Newspapers.

Tri-County Newspapers Belle Banner, Bland Courier and Maries County Gazette have not been recognized as Missouri businesses since the Secretary of State’s office dissolved their articles of organization June 4, 2002. Department of Revenue (DOR) Attorney Michael Shayne Kisling is suing Lewis and eight of his newspapers for unpaid Missouri taxes between Oct. 1, 2005 and Nov. 30,2010.

Kisling filed an injunction Oct. 4 in Maries County against Tri-County Newspapers doing business as Belle Banner, Maries County Gazette, Branson Daily Independent, Taney County Times, Stone County Gazette, Bland Courier, Stone County Buyers Guide, Taney County Buyers Guide and Kurt Lewis. Lewis owns all eight businesses.

Kisling also requested an expedited hearing and a preliminary injunction to stop the business’ retail sales since they have gone so long without either state or local licenses. According to Missouri, a summons was left with Lewis’ father, Ron Lewis, at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 at Tri-County Newspapers, 217 S. Alvarado Ave., Belle. The Lewis’ were present in court, along with Attorney Thomas William Rynard of Jefferson City.

Kurt Lewis paid $10,000 towards the newspapers’ tax debt following court Friday and another $640 bond towards a sales tax license with the understanding the remainder of his Missouri tax debt, a total of $52,958.02, would be paid in the next 21 days. DOR Certification of Tax Liens shows the business previously owed $87,054.74 from taxes between Oct. 1, 2005, to Nov. 30, 2010, in case 11MS-MC00082.

According to Maries County Circuit Clerk Mark Buschmann’s records, Beger entered a consent order for preliminary injunction following the hearing, granted by consent of the parties.

“The court finds that all parties have been given proper notice and an opportunity to be heard in compliance with Rule 92.02,” the court record noted.

“Defendants collectively and individually are enjoined from making sales at retail as Tri-County Newspapers or any variation of the same during the pendency of this lawsuit or at such time as this court by motion dissolves such preliminary injunction or defendants have come into compliance with the law of Missouri and a Missouri retail sales tax license and any county or city business license required. Failure to comply with this order could subject defendants collectively and individually to a finding of contempt by this court.

“The parties shall notify this court accordingly upon resolution.”

DOR employee Anne Marie Moy, who returned a phone call to Kisling’s office, said she could only speculate if Lewis has been paying taxes from 2011-17. She believed the consent order would require Lewis to bring his known back taxes completely up-to-date.

“Based upon (the injunction) it appears they agreed to pay a lump sum,” Moy said. “We don’t disclose if there was any negotiations.”

Although personal tax information is private, Missouri law has a reinstating process that includes Lewis being able to reinstate his original tax ID number. To become compliant with Missouri tax laws and be reinstated, Lewis would have to file tax forms from during the non-compliant period. He will also have to set up a new tax registration, updating his current information.

“Businesses are required to fully file all returns to be eligible for a Missouri retail sales tax license,” Moy said. “Businesses must demonstrate they do not owe the taxes assessed by the department; pay in full all delinquent taxes, interest, additions to tax, penalties and fees; or enter into an installment agreement to pay all such delinquencies.”

Until then, a computer system estimates the business’ liabilities based on previous filing history. If anything is flagged in the submissions of the non-compliant forms, the business would be forced to submit to an audit.

“The Department does not automatically require any business to submit to an audit before issuance of a Missouri retail sales tax license.

Lewis also owes the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) over $1 million, according to tax liens on record against Tri-County Newspapers. However, DOR said he will not be forced to become compliant with the IRS prior to receiving a Missouri sales tax license, according to Missouri State Statutes.

Section 144.083.1, RSMo states: “Any person applying for a retail sales license or reinstatement of a revoked sales tax license who owes any tax under sections 144.010 to 144.510 or sections 143.191 to 143.261 must pay the amount due plus interest and penalties before the department may issue the applicant a license or reinstate the revoked license.”

“There is no such requirement for federal taxes,” Moy said.

The consent order from the judge to Tri-County Newspapers on Nov. 3 also required Lewis to be compliant with local entities on business licenses. The city of Belle and Kimberling City have fined Lewis for not having a local business license and have warrants out for his arrest. The city of Belle has yet to determine what they may require of Lewis in regards to back-paying on his business license, fines and warrants.

“The department is not involved in municipalities’ business license issuance except as is expressed in Section 144.083, RSMo,” Moy said. “The department cannot answer what the cities of Belle and Kimberling City may require for issuance of their respective business license.”

Belle issued two fines for not having a business license, one in 2011 that resulted in a $250 warrant and another in 2013, that resulted in a $500 warrant. Kimberling City also issued a fine for no business license in 2014 that resulted in a $500 warrant.

Lewis was arrested on all three outstanding warrants Feb. 11, 2017. When he failed to appear at his Kimberling City court date April 12, the judge issued a fourth warrant for failure to appear with bond set at $2,500.

Belle Mayor Steve Vogt is trying to find out if the city may require Lewis to pay back the last six years of merchant’s licenses––a $25 annual fee, the business’ fines and face the warrants.

“I contacted the city attorney, Mary Weston, this morning,” Vogt said Monday. “I am waiting to hear back.”

By Tuesday, Vogt said he had received a copy of the court judgement, but no information about what the city would be allowed to do.

Kimberling City Deputy Court Clerk Laura Cather said they have not received a copy of the Maries County Court injunction yet, however, believes state law will only allow her to back charge for a business license three to five years.

“I don’t have anything in my ordinances that says I can go back,” Cather said. “I would have to ask my judge personally about the business license fee.”

Kimberling City Court Clerk Amy Carroll referred The Advocate to the Kimberling City prosecuting attorney, Eric Chavez. 

“I am not aware of him having contacted us or the clerks office to get things squared away,” Chavez said. “We are going to be looking at him from the point of the filing. He has been operating the business since then. My thought –– whatever year info was filed –– forward.”