New York Times
LESSON AT YONKERS MARKET
with guns and pages from the New York State Tax Law, a team of
undercover agents swept through the Yonkers Raceway Flea Market
today to demonstrate that tax evasion does not pay.
agents, striding through the market like sheriffs hunting down
outlaws in the Wild West, wrote out citations, issued warnings
and commandeered property, in the name of the law that requires
flea market vendors to charge sales tax and turn it over to the
state. 'No One Is Escapable'
shows that no one is escapable from the reaches of the tax department,''
said Michael G. Kessler, chief of tax investigations for the State
Department of Taxation and Finance, who was known as Ranger One
for purposes of walkie-talkie communication during the operation.
vendors said they did not understand the sales tax law and had
not violated it, anyway.
Klein, the genial owner of Mr. Pillow, a linens business, was
asked why he did not have the required certificate of authority
to charge sales tax. He had been given a form to apply for the
certificate the week before, an agent pointed out.
certificate?'' Mr. Klein said. ''What happened is that I can't
said Gary Zweibach, a tax compliance officer. ''You'll be issued
a summons today.''
I remember,'' Mr. Klein said. ''The gentleman who was here last
week gave me a sealed envelope and told me to mail it. I was very
confused by the sealed envelope. I didn't know whether I was supposed
to open it or mail it.''
week, investigators surveyed about 300 merchants in the market,
behind Yonkers Raceway, and notified some that they lacked correct
sales-tax documents. The violators were given forms and told that
if they filled them out and began charging tax they would not
face any penalties. Today's action was aimed at those who had
not done so.
the end of the day, 21 citations had been issued. Each required
a court appearance and carried the possibility of a $1,000 fine
and a jail term, said a spokesman for the tax department, Paul
Raceway was the fifth flea market to have felt the impact of Operation
Flea Collar. The name is a bit of an embarrassment to the people
carrying it out. ''The public relations department thought the
name up,'' one agent said.
usually do major undercover operations,'' said another agent,
wondering aloud why he was spending Sunday morning in a flea market,
holding a fistful of summonses. ''We did the Helmsleys and some
of the stockbrokers.'' Operation Flea Collar will be extended
to flea markets in upstate New York, the agents said. No Small
Problem Tax evasion by flea-market merchants is no small problem.
The Retail Council, a merchants' lobbying group, estimates that
flea-market merchants in New York State evade $100 million in
sales tax every year. ''We have found that flea markets are a
hotbed of noncompliance of New York State's tax laws,'' Mr. Rickert
operation met with some resistance from the vendors.
of first to be questioned was Michael Weitz, a clothing merchant
who turned out to be not guilty of anything. Mr. Weitz, in fact,
seemed pleased to see actual, breathing tax agents, because he
had a few things to get off his chest.
when you write to Albany, does the letter always get lost?'' he
asked, as the agents tried to move to the next booth. ''And why,
when you call, do they put you on hold for 20 minutes and then
in the morning, agents seized the merchandise of a clothing vendor
whose husband, they said, owed $24,000 in back sales tax.
agent began stringing up orange rope around the booth. Another
began putting up signs saying ''SEIZED.'' A third chased shoppers
away. ''Excuse me, ladies, this shop is closed right now,'' he
said, wresting a shirt from a woman who was asking its price.
crowd gathered and engaged in a brief impromptu debate about taxation
the guy's own fault; he should have paid,'' said one man to another.
the Gestapo,'' his companion replied. ''They must have the whole
tax department out here.'' ''Of course, I don't pay taxes either,''
said the first.
passer-by, Dorothy Angelico, looked on with concern as the agents
removed the clothing, to hold until the back taxes were paid.
''I don't like to see anything like that happen to anyone,'' she
said. ''I'm Mrs. Softy, I guess.''
Author - Sarah Lyall