The Great Minnesota Tax Dodge

Meet 10 of Minnesota's most notorious state tax scofflaws

FUN FACT In 2002 Priscella was sued in Hennepin County District Court by his brother-in-law, Alvin Robbins. Robbins was seeking more than $50,000 in damages for allegedly bad investment advice and unfulfilled financial promises. The case was terminated when Priscella filed for bankruptcy protection.

QUOTE "The difficulties that I have faced are not unusual in businesses that are starting out," Priscella told the Star Tribune in 1993. "I have made mistakes and certainly wish that I had had the opportunity to change those events. The next best thing was to recognize those mistakes that were made and then make them right."


James D. Sheehan
Mound, Minnesota

TAX STAT Owes $260,321.32 in income and withholding taxes incurred between 1986 and 1998

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS Sheehan is most famous for running a vast auto-parts telemarketing scam in the late '80s and early '90s. He operated under a slew of different corporate names: James Automotive, U.S. Warehouse, General Automotive, and Kar Kare Industries, among others. The basic con was quite simple. Sheehan's employees would call up auto parts stores pitching supplies such as brake cleaner and silicone sealant. They would then offer the employee responsible for filling orders a "premium" (better known as a bribe) in return for making a purchase. In most cases this premium was a TV, a camcorder, a handgun, or cash. Sheehan's workers would then sell the stores vastly overpriced merchandise. For example, according to a Hennepin County criminal complaint, in 1991 one of Sheehan's employees sold a carton of three-ounce tubes of Permatex silicone sealant to an auto parts store for $7.82 per unit. The tubes had originally been purchased for $1.77 each. The premiums promised in return for purchasing the overpriced merchandise never arrived. If the individuals who'd agreed to bribes refused to make subsequent orders, Sheehan's employees would threaten to tell their bosses about the scam. The telemarketing operation, which ran roughly from 1988 to 1992, had up to six employees at any one time and generated proceeds of at least $4.4 million, according to court records. In 1992 Sheehan was charged with one count of racketeering, 10 counts of theft by swindle, and 13 counts of commercial bribery. He ultimately pleaded guilty to seven of the counts and was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

FUN FACT In 2001, Sheehan's ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him in Hennepin County District Court.

QUOTE "The Respondent called Petitioner and told her he should slit her throat. In early 1/01 he left phone messages for the Petitioner telling her that she is a slut." --From his ex-wife's petition for a restraining order.


Jeffrey P. Van Haveren
St. Paul, Minnesota

TAX STAT Owes $385,686.39 in income, sales, and withholding taxes incurred between 1998 and 2003

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS Van Haveren has operated flower shops in various Minneapolis locations (Nicollet Mall, Gaviidae Common, the farmers' market) for years. His stores have probably been best known for offering good deals on roses. Jeffrey Van Haveren has been a fairly regular visitor to local courthouses in recent years. Judgments have been entered against him in at least Ramsey, Hennepin, and Dakota counties. In 2000, for example, Van Haveren was sued in Hennepin County District Court by Zeller-OFP Trust, his landlord at Gaviidae Common, for failing to pay rent. The company evicted him and ultimately received an $89,158.31 judgment against Van Haveren and his business. In 2003, the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office revoked the sales and use tax permit for Van Haveren's Flowerworks because the company had allegedly failed to pay $23,112.55 in sales taxes.

FUN FACT Van Haveren was sued in Ramsey County District Court in 2001 by the Billman-Hunt Funeral Chapel. He was ordered to pay $6,767.75 in outstanding bills stemming from his wife's funeral. The debt is still outstanding. According to funeral home officials, part of the bill included a large flower order that was made with Van Haveren's own company.

QUOTE "You know what the kicker is?" asks Jeff Hunt, one of the northeast Minneapolis funeral parlor's owners. "He took all the flowers after the funeral. There weren't any flowers left. Not even any on the grave. It's not hard to figure out what he did with them."


Deborah M. Barker
Naples, Florida

TAX STAT Owes $277,991.85 in income taxes incurred between 1994 and 1996

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS Deborah Barker apparently does not believe in the validity of income taxes. In 1997, Barker and her husband, Stephen, filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The gist of their argument was that the Internal Revenue Service had no authority to tax their income because the government agency had never been legally established. More specifically, the couple argued that their privacy rights had been violated by the Treasury Department's unwillingness to furnish sufficient documentation to back up the agency's claim to a chunk of their assets. Not surprisingly, this legal rationale was rejected by the courts. Undeterred, in 1999 the Barkers filed a similar lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court seeking protection from Minnesota Department of Revenue collection agents. According to court records, the Barkers filed a joint income-tax return for 1994, but failed to do so in the following two years--this despite the fact that Stephen Barker was earning more than $1 million annually working at brokerage firm R.J. Steichen & Company. In 1999, the state revenue agency sent the couple a bill for $235,000 in back taxes for the three years in question and subsequently placed liens on their property. The Barkers responded by filing the lawsuit seeking to stop the liens from being enforced. "This is your notice," Stephen Barker wrote the revenue agency in January of 2000, "you have 5 business days to remove the lien and make a public retraction before legal action is taken against you, your superiors and your agency." The letter was cc'd to then Gov. Jesse Ventura and other public officials, but had little impact. The Hennepin County lawsuit was dismissed. The Barkers currently own two homes in Naples with a combined value of roughly $838,000, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser.

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