Artful sales tax dodging - Wacky Tax Wednesday

Artful sales tax dodging - Wacky Tax Wednesday

Alec Baldwin may have to keep his Donald Trump wig now that we have President Elect Trump; it's a time-honored tradition to impersonate the president. But he should get a break from the contentious debates featured on Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, it looks like contention continues for Alec Baldwin — this time over art.

Mr. Baldwin is accusing art gallery owner Mary Boone of art fraud. Ms. Boone is accusing Alec Baldwin of sales tax fraud. Exactly what transpired will eventually be determined in court.

The art

Mr. Baldwin claims that in 2010, Ms. Boone promised to procure for him a 1996 Ross Bleckner painting entitled “Sea and Mirror.” The painting was privately owned but the gallery owner allegedly arranged a sale for $175,000, plus her $15,000 fee. The actor claims that the painting looked brighter and smelled of paint upon delivery, and that when he asked about it, he was told by Ms. Boone that she had had it cleaned as a courtesy. Further doubts about the identity of the painting surfaced earlier this year upon learning from art experts that gallery owners typically don’t clean art for a buyer without their consent.

Attorneys for Ms. Boone contend Mr. Baldwin “waited too long to bring his lawsuit” under the New York statute of limitations for fraud. If he had concerns back in 2010, he should have pursued them then.  Furthermore, according to her attorney Ted Poretz, “Baldwin was made aware from the start he was not getting the original 1996 version of the painting” but rather a different, more recent, version of “Sea and Mirror” (Artnet). He added that Ms. Boone “has no interest in misleading clients.”

The sales tax

Speaking of fraud, Ms. Boone contends that Mr. Baldwin committed some of his own. She claims he had the painting shipped to his house in California in order to avoid paying approximately $16,000 in New York sales tax on it. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly had it shipped to his New York apartment, where it hangs today. Mr. Baldwin’s attorney said these allegations were “a diversionary tactic that does not answer the fraud allegation” and that “we will not dignify that with a response at this time” (Wall Street Journal).

Under New York law, if sales tax isn’t collected on “taxable items or services used in New York,” then the buyer must remit New York use tax. See the New York Department of Taxation and Finance bulletin Use Tax for Individuals for additional information.

It’s not unusual for sales tax evasion to cross paths with the art world; New York Attorney General Eric Schniederman has been cracking down on art fraud for months and last spring announced settlements of more than $7 million. He noted at that time, “Art buyers may not avoid sales or use tax simply by claiming that artwork they enjoy at home is intended for resale.” Vendors of pricey items such as art and diamonds have wondered if it’s legal for customers to avoid state sales tax by having their purchases shipped out-of-state. If Alec Baldwin is guilty of this type of sales tax fraud, he’s certainly not the first to have committed the crime.

Follow the case to learn more: Alec Baldwin v. Mary Boone et al., case number 654807/2016, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County.

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