IRS says homeless man owes $6 million

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Seattle P-I

SALEM, Ore. -- In his second-hand clothes from the Salvation Army and his bed at the Union Gospel Mission, John Ramer is not the picture of prosperity.

But never mind, the IRS has handed the homeless Salem man a tax bill for just under $6 million.

During a visit to a local IRS office, Ramer was taken aside and asked whether he had done any day trading.

Good thing Ramer also has a sense of humor: "I feel like holding up a sign: 'Will work for new portfolio.'" The 30-year-old Ramer said.

He has a collection of notices from the IRS demanding payment for taxes and interest from 1994. To owe the kind of money the IRS says he does, Ramer should have earned about $15 million.

He was making about $7 an hour at the time.

Ramer is unemployed and getting around town on a mountain bike. He ended up in Oregon after turning himself in for a theft committed in 1998.

He went to a Salem car dealership and took a "test drive" in a used pickup truck and kept right on driving until he reached Montana.

For a short time, Ramer did volunteer work at the Candy Kitchen Wolf & Hybrid Rescue Ranch in Pinehill, N.M.

"If we paid him anything, it wasn't more than $300 or $400 - and he owes me a hundred bucks," said Leyton Cougar, facilities director of the animal sanctuary.

Ramer helped care for wolves that were once kept as pets.

Mark Mueller, a certified public accountant in Salem, said IRS mistakes are rare. He's seen tax bills that were off by a couple of thousand dollars.

Never, in 20 years, has Mueller come across a flub like this.

IRS spokeswoman Shawn George confirmed the agency was investigating Ramer's case and taking it seriously.

There was one piece of good news on Ramer's latest IRS notice. The agency found an error in his favor worth $18.


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