Tax Rascal

Suffering From ‘Non-Filer Syndrome’? Better Have Rich Friends

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Suffering From ‘Non-Filer Syndrome’? Better Have Rich Friends

Charles O’Byrne, a top aide to New York Governor David Patterson, refused to file income taxes for years. He now owes the state $300,000 and an apology — he’s been able to tender one of these on his own.

What’s surprising is that for someone earning so much — his last salary was $178,000 per year — and working directly for the state government, O’Byrne didn’t get much attention from the tax authorities. From 2001 to 2005, he accumulated a six-figure debt without ever being asked to pay up.

According to his lawyer, Richard Kestenbaum, he suffered from ‘Non-Filer Syndrome’, which made him too depressed to do his taxes, even though, “Most times, with professionals, these are very high-functioning people who otherwise complete all the other ordinary tasks of their life.”

But having a mental illness custom-tailored to explain your misbehavior isn’t the only benefit from being Mr. O’Byrne. He was also able to raise money from Brian Krisberg (a politically active attorney) and Jean Kennedy Smith (yes, a Kennedy Kennedy). Thanks to this help, O’Byrne was able to pay off his debt — though he was still finishing that up as of earlier this week.

It’s hard to imagine the average taxpayer being able to ask a few friends to pitch in for a $300,000 debt, but O’Byrne is not the average taxpayer — or even that average nonfiler. Actually, most people who file late owe less money, and are more likely to get a refund, than people who file on time (they are also less likely to have friends in the Kennedy family or at white shoe law firms). Most non-filers also have more honest reasons: owing too much to pay all at once, not having the paperwork handy, or simply running out of time. By defending himself with a sham mental illness, O’Byrne makes things harder for the average late filer — even though, illness or not, O’Byrne has an easier time settling his debt and putting the matter behind him.

As if that’s not enough, the New York Times points out, O’Byrne has some other problems, too: “he had recently charged $935 in restaurant meals in Manhattan to his state-issued credit card, including visits to Commerce in Greenwich Village and Cookshop in Chelsea.” Presumably, his lawyers are already preparing a diagnosis of Expense Account Dyslexia to save him from the indignity of following the rules.

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