March 16, 2010 -- Disgraced financier/Ponzi schemer/worst financial villain of all-time Bernard Madoff can add one more dubious designation to his rogue's resume: tax cheat.
New York State has now published its annual list of its top 250 individual income tax delinquents. Madoff, who owes $984,280.86 in back taxes, came in at No. 68.
California's annual Top 250 list, also updated earlier this month, features a few well-known names, including singer Dionne Warwick, who comes in at No. 3 with an 11-year-old debt of $2.2 million, as well as Burt Reynolds, who just snuck onto the list at No. 247. The mustachioed "Smoky and the Bandit" star owes the cash-depleted California government some $225,000 going back to 1996.
Warwick and Reynolds could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter, Fla., declined comment.
The amounts published by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the California Franchise Tax Board only refer to the original debt at the time tax liens were filed. Interest and partial payments are not reflected – meaning that over the years, conceivably, delinquents on the list may have at least tried to whittle down the amounts. Often, though, the states have to stand in line in lengthy bankruptcy proceedings. That's currently what's happening with Madoff.
"The first step is to file a civil tax warrant against the individual simply to protect the state's interests," said Brad Maione, spokesman for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
"States find that shame can be an effective way to recoup what is owed, especially in these tough times," said Michael Cohen, editor of WebCPA.com, a site for tax professionals and which includes an entire subsection dedicated to celebrity tax foibles. "By posting the names publicly, the hope is that these people will do whatever they can to get off the list," Cohn said.
America's Top Tax Scofflaws
At the top of the New York State scofflaw list is Irving Bilzinsky. The Brooklyn resident and former owner of a Manhattan strip club, Scores Entertainment, owes more than $15 million in individual income taxes and business-related taxes. Bilzinsky, who went bankrupt more than a decade ago, could not be reached for comment.
Also near the top of New York's tax scofflaw list is Dennis Levine, the former Drexel Burnham Lambert investment banker at the center of the late 1980s insider-trading scandal that ultimately snared Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. Levine's tax problems stretch back to the late 1980s. Some tax scofflaws, apparently, have no shame.