Friday, August 6, 2010

'Real World' Alum in House Race Owes IRS Up to $1.3 Million by Michael McAuliff - Mouth of the Potomac - NY Daily News

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“Real World” alum Kevin Powell may be climbing a big hill in his bid for Congress, but he’s got a bigger mountain with the IRS — a mountain of debt.

According to Powell’s belatedly filed financial disclosure forms, he owes the tax man at least $615,000, and could owe up to $1.3 million.

Powell, who made a splash in the inaugural season of MTV’s “Real World,” is taking on veteran Rep. Ed Towns (D-Brooklyn), but he failed entirely to file financial disclosure forms required of candidates with House ethics officials in his first run in 2008. This year, his forms were received at 11:09 a.m. Wednesday, the day after the Daily News asked why Powell had not filed. He insisted he filed weeks ago.

Powell said his tax problems were not the result of trying to beat the IRS or city tax collectors (the city is owed at least $115,000 of the total pot), but as the result long-running financial illiteracy, bad advice, bad luck, generous habits, and an expensive sub-prime mortgage.

“Kevin Powell has not had a job since 1996,” said Powell, who earns his living by writing and giving speeches. “The situation is I had an accountant back in the day, and I trusted that person to handle my situation, and it wasn’t done properly.”

According to his financial disclosure, Powell has earned just over $300,000 over the last year and a half. That did not make him wealthy, he said.

“I do OK with the speeches, but I’ve also had a lot of bills to pay over the years,” he said. “It’s all relative when you have to also make sure you take care of yourself, your family, a lot of people.

“I’m a regular guy,” he insisted, suggesting his tax troubles actually make him a better candidate. “I’m like a lot of people in my community. We get in financial trouble. Just because someone is smart in one area, it doesn’t mean they are financially literate.

“I can say that now,” he said. “I’m a person who lives very much within my means. But I wasn’t always that way.”

“We live in a country were a lot of people make these kind of mistakes,” he added.” I’m just like a lot of Americans.”

He also said that he is working with the IRS to pay down the huge debts, which he says have been set too high, and which he expects to be reduced.

“Only in the last couple of years have I gotten with a great accountant,” he said. “I spent all this time the last decade working as a community organizer.”

Powell is fighting to get on the ballot against Towns in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary in Brooklyn. And while he has been criticizing Towns and Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel for being unethical, Powell argued there was no comparison to him, even though one of Rangel’s alleged lapses was failing to pay $10,000 in taxes.

“The difference between myself, and Mr. Towns and Mr. Rangel is they’re actually in a financial position to pay taxes, no matter what they were,” Powell said. “I wasn’t for years.”

Towns has not been accused of ethics violations, although Powell cited Daily News reports about $5 million in federal cash Towns allegedly tried to help funnel to a organization run from a vacant address.

Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for Towns, was not impressed by Powell’s arguments, or his position.

“After he loses, it’s obvious that Powell won’t be talking about personal money management as part of his speaking around the country.