What happens when the chief of staff to a Congressman (and former Democratic staff director for the Homeland Security Committee) fails to file or pay income tax for six or more years in a row? It appears, not much.
Isaac Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was charged on August 22, 2016, with five counts of willfully failing to file a tax return. Between 2009 and 2013, Avant earned wages over $170,000 per year, did not timely file his personal income tax returns, and did not have any federal tax withheld from his paycheck, having falsely claimed he was exempt from paying federal income taxes.
Avant could serve up to one year in prison for each misdemeanor count, if convicted, in addition to paying monetary penalties.
His charges could have been more serious if the government chose to charge him with the felony of tax evasion, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. While the failure to file his tax returns alone would not be sufficient to establish the felony, when Avant filed a false Form W-4 with his employer indicating no income tax should be withheld from his paychecks, he may have taken the affirmative act required for the government to charge a tax evasion case.
Be sure to file your tax forms accurately with your employer regarding your withholdings – false statements on tax forms found to be intentionally false, coupled with a failure to file or pay your income taxes, could result in a felony charge. It’s not clear why the government chose not to prosecute Avant for the greater crime in this case, but the law is clear about what the potential consequences could be for yours.