Omaha City Council member Vinny Palermo has pleaded guilty in federal court to willful failure to file income tax returns for 2012, 2013 and 2014. These offenses show a disturbing failure of judgment that raises serious concern. In the wake of this troubling news, many Omahans will understandably question his suitability for public office.
The penalties for such offenses, under federal law, aren’t minor. Palermo could spend up to a year in federal prison on each of the three counts, along with fines of up to $100,000, as well as a year of supervised release.
Individuals and businesses sometimes fall behind financially. Palermo’s actions, however, demonstrated a willful, repeated disregard for his legal obligations. Court documents show he failed to file tax returns in 2012, 2013 and 2014 reporting income from his tree-trimming business.
Karl Stiften, the special agent in charge of the investigation, was blunt in describing this matter: “Mr. Palermo should have been more aware of his own financial obligations. This wasn’t an oversight or mistake.”
Palermo agreed to pay restitution for $21,209 in taxes owed and to take responsibility for the mistake, according to the plea agreement. As part of the agreement, federal prosecutors agreed not to seek additional charges based on whether Palermo filed returns for 2015 and 2016. His attorney said he had no indication those returns were late.
City government shouldn’t take flagrant tax violators lightly when it comes to paying city taxes, and a member of the City Council has a heightened responsibility to fulfill tax obligations. Palermo’s failure on this score casts a troubling shadow. Omahans will rightly scrutinize his judgment and suitability for office.