Spartanburg lawmaker pleads guilty to tax charges
COLUMBIA— A Democratic state legislator who pleaded guilty Monday to two misdemeanor tax charges said he’s eager to get back to work for his constituents.
Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, must pay about $6,000 to avoid jail, according to the attorney general’s office.
Mitchell, 45, pleaded guilty to not filing his 2007 and 2008 returns on time, after felony tax evasion charges were dismissed.
A one-year prison sentence was suspended to three years of probation, provided he pays $5,990 for taxes owed from 2005 through 2008, plus prosecutors’ costs. Prosecutors said that while the plea involved two years, he must pay what was owed during all four.
Mitchell said he’s acknowledged all along that he filed late. He still contends he doesn’t owe but says he’ll pay it to put the ordeal behind him.
“Let me pay it and get it out of the way and get back to work,” Mitchell told The Associated Press. “I’m just glad to be back.”
The House suspended him in January, following his indictment on felony charges, sidelining him for the entire 2012 legislative session. Still, he won re-election with no opponent on either the primary or general election ballots.
Mitchell, first elected in 2005, said to further fight the case would be unfair to his constituents, since it could leave them without a representative for 2013, too. He said he plans to pay the Revenue Department out of his back legislative pay, which he can collect once he’s reinstated. State legislators earn a salary of $10,400 a year.
Mitchell turned himself in last September on charges he didn’t file state income tax returns for 2005 through 2008 until 2009, and that those returns failed to include nearly $225,000 in income from his nonprofit. Mitchell is executive director of Regenesis Economic Development Organization.
But Mitchell said he never received a salary from his nonprofit. A defense-paid accountant hired to thoroughly review Mitchell’s receipts and expenses produced a 300-page report earlier this year showing the state actually owed him tax refunds. His attorney, Bruce Byrholdt, has explained the late filings as bad advice from Mitchell’s former accountant, who told him he didn’t earn enough to need to file.
“I’m not going to just pass the buck on him. I can explain, but at the end of the day I was responsible,” Mitchell said Monday. “This is over, and I’ve accepted what I said from day one, that yes, it was late.”
His plea came on the day his trial was set to start and 10 days after a Republican colleague was convicted of the same charges. A jury found Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, guilty Nov. 16 of failing to file tax returns from 2004 to 2007 on time. He never faced felony charges and said he was glad he went through the court process rather than agree to a plea deal.
Crawford must pay a $10,000 fine but also received no jail time.