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Launching his umpteenth run for shadow senator last August, furniture magnate Pete Ross told LL that he’d left his criminal past behind him. Specifically, that’d be the 2007 tax evasion conviction that got him three months in a halfway house. Getting busted for not paying his employment taxes, though, didn’t hinder his ability to blow more than $180,000 of his own money ahead of April’s primary trying to become the District’s next shadow senator. Not that it helped: He lost to incumbent Paul Strauss by nearly 20 points.
Now Ross is in trouble with the IRS again—or at least his own campaign aides say he is. Ross, who’s always placed both enormous importance and financial resources on an unpaid position that’s barely even recognized in the District, is now embroiled in a dispute over wages and payroll taxes, four months after the Democratic primary.
To hear Bill Brown, Ross’ former campaign treasurer, tell it, the once well-funded campaign is having trouble settling its debts. Even though Ross’ own contributions could have funded a decent bid for mayor, an Office of Campaign Finance statement filed last week by Brown reports that Ross’ campaign owes nearly $2,000 to pollworker company Outfront Enterprises. More worryingly for Ross, and more ironic, given what he calls his “checkered past,” Brown’s OCF report also claims that Ross owes $4,623 in payroll taxes to the IRS and the District. “I assumed that a lot of this would have been resolved in April, and now it’s July,” says Brown.
Brown, who lists himself as one of the Ross campaign’s other creditors on the report to the tune of $3,000, resigned from the mostly defunct campaign last week, along with campaign manager John Fanning. While Ross can draw on both his acrylic furniture fortune and a sizable inheritance from his parents, Brown blames the campaign’s ongoing money troubles on a lack of communication from his old boss.
Apparently, Brown isn’t the only one who’s fed up with Ross. In text messages to Ross, Outfront’s David Jones complained that the furniture tycoon hadn’t paid him what he purportedly owed. “Do not cheat black people Pete,” Jones warns in one text message.
Jones declined to talk to LL, while Fanning didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Ross claims Fanning and Brown are just trying to shake him down for more money to cover their own tax bills from the campaign. (Brown says Ross didn’t withhold taxes from some campaign paychecks, while Ross says his staff were sometimes paid as consultants and should handle their own taxes.) He’s worried that this dispute could sabotage his plans to score a city contract for his planned janitorial company that would employ ex-prisoners.
“Do you think it’s worth it to me to not pay what they claim?” Ross says.
Photo courtesy Pete Ross