Polygamous leader Winston Blackmore is no Al Capone.
And a federal government lawyer dismissed suggestions Canada’s taxman is out to get Mr. Blackmore in the same way U.S. prosecutors worked to convict the famous 1920s mobster.
In her final arguments Thursday in Mr. Blackmore’s tax case, Lynn Burch told a Federal Tax Court that the religious leader’s taxes weren’t reassessed because he faced polygamy charges, but because he is 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 U.S. prosecutors could not convict Mr. Capone – the leader of a Prohibition-era crime gang – on criminal charges and instead a judge convicted him on tax-evasion charges.
Mr. Blackmore and James Oler were charged with practising polygamy in 2009, but the allegations were thrown out.
The men each lead 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 in which a judge later upheld the law forbidding polygamy.
In this case, the federal government alleges Mr. 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.
Mr. Blackmore disputed the claim in court saying his community of more than 400 residents should have special tax status, similar to those of Hutterite colonies.
But Ms. Burch told Judge Diane Campbell that Mr. Blackmore’s community fails to meet all the criteria that allow some religious communities to be taxed as a group.
Ms. Burch said Mr. Blackmore’s community did not meet conditions such as working and living together as a group and not owning any property. Instead, she said Mr. 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.
Mr. Blackmore told the trial in earlier testimony that he had 21 wives and had 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 probing the community again, but this time over the issue of teenaged 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 proceeded 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.
The Canadian Press