Tax dispute takes center stage in South Anchorage Senate race

The Anchorage offices of Delta Leasing, one of two sites raided by tax officials and law...
The Anchorage offices of Delta Leasing, one of two sites raided by tax officials and law enforcement in 2013 over allegations of unpaid taxes. (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 19, 2016 at 12:52 PM AKDT
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A state Senate candidate is taking heat over her husband’s tax problems.

Natasha von Imhof, the Republican nominee in Senate District L, is the subject of an Alaska Public Offices Commission complaint as well as a blistering attack mailer over a multi-million dollar tax dispute recently settled between her husband, Rudi, and the Alaska Department of Revenue.

Rudi von Imhof co-owns Delta Leasing LLC with Old Harbor Native Corp. Just one day after his wife’s victory in a August 16 contentious primary election, his vehicle and equipment rental company agreed to pay the Revenue Department $1.5 million in taxes.

The business had previously fought paying a state vehicle rental tax for several years, arguing that the tax did not apply. When tax officials raided the company's Anchorage and North Slope offices in 2013, Delta Leasing responded by hiring a lobbyist to advocate an exemption for companies that lease vehicles for use on private roads.

KTUU requested comment from each of the von Imhofs multiple times since an initial story the day the settlement was announced in August.

They responded for the first time Tuesday, with Natasha describing complaint and mailer as attacks with little merit from political opponents past and present. Rudi explained the motivation behind the tax agreement deal and the reason for the timing.

"The state and Delta Leasing both recognized that application of the vehicle rental tax to Delta Leasing’s clients on the privately maintained roads of the North Slope raised legal issues that have not been addressed by the courts, and both wanted to resolve the matter without litigation," he wrote. "Delta Leasing’s board of directors agreed to the settlement date of August 17 as a result of financial planning and available cash flow."

Still, the approach of a company closely connected to a candidate paying a well-connected insider, former House Speaker John Harris, now a lobbyist, to advocate changing the law instead of immediately footing the tax bill submitted by the Revenue Department is the subject of a campaign attack.

Natasha von Imhof is a former Anchorage School Board member, secretary for the nonprofit Rasmuson Foundation, and is among the best funded legislative candidates running this year.

Forrest McDonald, the Democrat on the Nov. 8 ballot opposite von Imhof, uses a mailer to accuse his opponent of paying "a lobbyist $36,000 to fight for $3 million of your tax dollars to her business. When that failed, she filed for office," he wrote.

"I would challenge anybody that's going to be voting in this district to really think about this scenario: if they had been caught red-handed, dodging several million dollars in taxes, then do you think they would have gotten away with it?" McDonald said in an interview with KTUU.

Natasha said "obvious political motives" are at play.

"I am not an owner of Delta Leasing, nor am I involved in the day-to-day business matters of the company," she wrote in an email.

Alaska Dispatch News reported on Sept. 2 that the candidate made a similar statement: that she had "zero conversations" with her husband about Delta Leasing and that she was "not involved with the company in any way, shape or form."

That defense is not credible, according to Andrew Halcro, a former state lawmaker who backed one of von Imhof's opponents, Jeff Landfield, in the primary. The candidate played an active role in trying to figure out how her husband's company should respond to the tax dispute as early as two years ago, Halcro said.

"Natasha reached out to me, and I did have a phone conversation with her about this when I was president of the Chamber of Commerce, I believe in the spring of 2014," Halcro said in a phone interview. "She explained the situation, that she believed Delta (Leasing LLC) did not have to pay taxes because (North Slope) roads are private."

Von Imhof disputed Halcro's account.

"Obviously my husband and I discuss the things that matter to our family, and while I was aware at a high level this was taking place, I am not involved in the day-to-day business matters of Delta Leasing, including the details of this agreement," she wrote.

Landfield, a Republican, filed an APOC complaint Monday alleging that his opponent was legally required to disclose the tax liability in public official financial disclosure forms.

The forms detail personal finances ranging from income and stocks to real estate and debts; office holders and candidates must also list the same information for spouses, children, and others who qualify as "close economic associations."

Von Imhof's forms from this year and last do not mention any of the owed taxes, something Landfield contends is a violation of state law.

"People said, 'You're going to look like a sore loser,'" Landfield said in an interview. "But the truth is, the election is over, and APOC has nothing to do with who determines elections.

"This is about people regardless of social or political standing having to follow the disclosure rules," Landfield said.

Von Imhof described the complaint as sour grapes.

"Note that the APOC complaint is from a former political opponent, Mr. Jeff Landfield, and the mailer is from his successor," she wrote Tuesday. "Andrew Halcro was Jeff Landfield’s most visible campaign booster. The election is three weeks away.

"I’m not surprised that a political opponent is trying to resurrect this issue at election time. I’ll be happy to discuss this issue with APOC if and when they have any questions."

If the commission formally accepts the complaint, it has 30 days to weigh the merits. That means the issue will likely be settled well after Election Day on Nov. 8.