A federal judge has dismissed a felony tax evasion charge against a man who describes himself as a Christian who refuses to give money to the government to support abortion.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that the government’s indictment failed to provide any evidence that Michael Bowman tried to conceal or mislead government officials by simply cashing his checks and keeping a low bank balance so tax collectors couldn’t garnish his account to pay taxes.
“Not everything that makes collection efforts more difficult qualifies as evasion,” Mosman said Wednesday.
Bowman, a contract engineer who lives in Columbia City, said he’s been up front with the Internal Revenue Service, refusing to file a tax return or pay taxes since 1999 without some accommodation afforded to him for his religious beliefs.
“I’m not a tax protester. I love my country. I have a duty to my country. I have a duty to my conscience,” the 53-year-old said, raising his hand and striking his chest, where the front of his shirt spelled out a definition of “conscience.”
Prosecutors alleged that Bowman hasn’t filed an accurate or timely income tax return since at least 1997.
When the Oregon Department of Revenue stepped up its enforcement and began garnishing money from Bowman’s bank account in January 2012, Bowman changed his method of financial transactions. He began cashing out his work checks, leaving a minimum balance in his bank account, between January 2012 through September 2014, according to the government.
“Defendant’s altered bank behavior removed his income from the reach of taxing authorities and allowed him to avoid payment of assessed taxes,” Assistant U.S Attorneys Donna Brecker Maddux and Rachel K. Sowray wrote in their defense of the felony tax evasion charge against Bowman.
Between 2002 and 2014, prosecutors said the IRS sent many notices to Bowman that his federal taxes were due, of penalties, of intended collection actions and lien filings.
The indictment alleged Bowman evaded paying his taxes, starting in about January 2012, for income taxes and penalties due in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2009, totaling $356,857.
But defense lawyer Matthew Schindler argued that the simple act of depositing a check and then withdrawing cash from an account isn’t a crime, particularly when the checks Bowman received for work were all disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Schindler questioned how Bowman could engage in tax evasion for his 1999 taxes through the cashing of checks in 2012 in his own name, at his own bank.
“Like a player collapsing as they lose Twister, the government has reached too far forward and stretched way too far back,” Schindler wrote in a motion to dismiss the charge. “Cashing a check at your own bank, made out to you, representing income contemporaneously disclosed by employers through 1099 and W-2 forms to the IRS is not ‘handling one’s affairs to avoid making records.'”
Mosman agreed with Schindler’s argument. “Just cashing checks is not evasion,” the judge said.
The judge dismissed the charge without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could seek a new indictment to replace it. Maddux said the government was considering its options.
Bowman still faces four counts of willful failure to file tax returns, a misdemeanor.
Lending support to Bowman at the hearing was another client of Schindler’s, Oregon refuge occupier Kenneth Medenbach, who was acquitted of all federal charges in the refuge takeover during a trial in 2016.
Medenbach, a longtime protester of federal ownership of public land, said he’s following Bowman’s lead, refusing to pay taxes, citing his own religious beliefs against abortion.
— Maxine Bernstein