Al Franken: The cover-up begins

We’ve covered the tax and legal compliance problems of Minnesota Democratic Senatorial candidate Al Franken over the past few weeks. First came the revelation of his failure to pay workers’ compensation insurance in New York. Then came the revelation of his failure to file corporate tax returns in California. This week it was revealed that Franken owes $70,000 in back taxes in 17 states.

The numbers involved in the last incident are striking. Observers naturally want to know if Franken’s tax problems result from an oversight or something more serious, and whether they are confined to the period acknowledged so far (2003-2006). Franken has refused to release his tax returns and filed for an extension on his 2007 return.

Franken has blamed the problems on Allen Chanzis, his New York accountant. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Franken said Chanzis told him he needed to pay taxes only in states where he lived.

Yesterday the Star Tribune contacted Chanzis to get his side of the story, but the Star Tribune found that Franken seems to have been one step ahead of them. Someone had already instructed Chanzis not to talk with reporters:

Allen Chanzis, the longtime accountant for U.S. Senate hopeful Al Franken, refused to comment Wednesday evening when asked about the tax and business irregularities that have troubled Franken’s candidacy in recent weeks.

Contacted at his Long Island apartment, Chanzis declined to discuss Franken’s statements that the accountant’s mistakes caused Franken’s taxes to go unpaid in 17 states.

“I’ve been told to say, ‘No comment,’” Chanzis said, without saying who had instructed him to do so. Refusing to discuss any mistakes, he added: “I’ve been told you have the information you need.”

Observers also wonder whether Franken’s tax problems predate 2003. On Wednesday the Star Tribune reported that Franken could not address questions regarding the period prior to 2003 because the necessary records are missing:

Asked about the taxes before 2003, campaign manager Andy Barr said Franken was unable to reconstruct his tax situation prior to 2003 because those years’ financial records weren’t complete. Chanzis, Barr said, “had some stuff, but you have to have everything together and it just happens that [the accountants] were able to go back to 2003.”

Franken or Franken’s representatives have obviously instructed Chanzis not to talk to the press. Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for this instruction, but it is untenable for Franken to blame the problems on a professional and then order him to stay mum. To outward appearances, this is a cover-up. It is perhaps the most damning development yet in the continuing saga of the comedian who hasn’t been deliberately funny since the expiration of the Al Franken Decade in 1990.

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