DN editorial: Tax woes make us wonder whether we can trust D.A. candidate Tariq El-Shabazz
TARIQ EL-SHABAZZ says he is the "perfect candidate" for district attorney. We'd like to dispute that claim. El-Shabaaz, who until recently was D.A. Seth Williams' chief deputy, certainly has a lot of courtroom experience - with stints both as a public prosecutor and a private attorney.
TARIQ EL-SHABAZZ says he is the "perfect candidate" for district attorney. We'd like to dispute that claim.
El-Shabaaz, who until recently was D.A. Seth Williams' chief deputy, certainly has a lot of courtroom experience - with stints both as a public prosecutor and a private attorney.
During those years, though, he built up a mountain of debt. He owes more than $190,000 in federal, state and city taxes. He owes $137,187 to the IRS alone. The feds filed six liens against him between 2013 and 2016.
His financial problems continued even after he took his $165,000-a-year job in the D.A.'s office seven months ago. As recently as late January, PGW went to court to collect $757 owed by El-Shabazz. The gas company has another claim, totaling $1,139, dating from May 2016. In court records, it is still listed as unpaid.
At his announcement last week, El-Shabazz acknowledged having debts, said he had entered into a payment plan with the IRS, but refused to say whether had made any payments.
El-Shabazz also took credit for admitting he owed back taxes, but said: " . . . I will handle that debt. I haven't run from it. I'm not running from this issue."
To begin with, it is awfully hard to run away from your obligations to pay taxes. The state and the IRS take a dim view of people who skip paying their taxes and vigorously pursues those who owe big amounts.
El-Shabazz claims that being in debt should not disqualify him from being the city's chief prosecutor. He wants us to focus on his legal track record.
But public officials who are have financial difficulties are vulnerable to all sorts of trouble.
We don't have to look far for examples. Seth Williams - who went through a rough financial patch during his divorce - effectively ended his political career because he failed to disclose $175,000 in gifts he got from 2010 to 2015.
Some of that money came from employees in the D.A.'s office or lawyers who frequently had cases before the D.A. He was fined by the city's Ethics Board for his failure to disclose and also is under federal investigation for possible tax evasion.
The code of behavior for judges says, in effect, that they should have their financial house in order before they take the bench. The fear is that a judge in debt might be subject to temptation to use his powers to get the money he needs to repay his creditors.
There's no straight line between owing a lot in back taxes and judicial corruption - but it's enough of a concern to deserve mention in the code.
In the short run, El-Shabazz's mountain of debt will cause him political trouble. He is one of six Democrats running to succeed Williams as D.A. in the May 16 primary. On the plus side politically, he is the only African-American candidate in the race.
As El-Shabazz pointed out, the liens and court actions brought against him by his creditors are civil matter s -not criminal. And he is seeking to head an office that handles only criminal prosecutions.
Lack of judgment isn't a crime either, but El-Shabazz showed it in his tax dealings.