“At one point, we were afraid Howard would be indicted,” said Mr. Namorato, who’d been a criminal-tax-enforcement official at the Justice Department. “But we were able to clear that up. They didn’t have a strong enough case for a criminal indictment.”
My throat went dry. I kept hoping Howard would walk through the door and tell me everything would be okay.
“Did Howard know that?” I asked.
“Yes.” Mr. Namorato folded his hands on the papers in front of him. “That was decided before the end of the year.”
“Then does that mean the case is closed?”
“No. We got rid of the criminal charges, but we’ve got a long way to go. There’s still the debt and the penalties. This case is attractive to the IRS because it’s a big number.”
My voice was thin and barely audible. “Big number? What does that mean?”
“We don’t know the final number, but it’s large.”
“In the millions. We don’t yet know how many.”
I had the same sinking feeling I’d had in the intensive-care unit at Sibley Hospital. There I’d learned I could lose my husband. Here I was being told I could lose everything else. I had nowhere to turn. I was on my own.
“Sell everything,” one of the lawyers said with such gusto that I wanted to grab a tire iron and whack him. I didn’t have that option at hand, but the anger helped quell the panic. “Pay the debt and get this behind you.”
“If I sold every last thing—and I mean everything—home, apartment, the boat, the cars, books, clothes, art, toys, knickknacks, and my wedding ring—I wouldn’t be able to come up with millions of dollars,” I said.
“Where’s the money?” Mr. Casual Friday asked me, as if I’d robbed a bank and stashed the goods.
“What do you mean where’s the money?” The needle on my fight-or-flight gauge was now moving toward fight.
“There must be money somewhere,” he said. “He had to do something with the money. Is it in offshore accounts?”
Offshore accounts? These people were his lawyers, for God’s sake. Wouldn’t they have known if there were offshore accounts?
“Howard didn’t hide money,” I said. “He spent it. He liked to spread it around. He didn’t want his money stashed on an island somewhere. He wanted it close and available.” The room was suddenly quiet.
I finally worked up the courage to ask the question: “What happens if I can’t pay?”
That got everyone’s attention. It was clear they’d never considered that possibility. They looked at one another and then back at me. I could hear the hum of the ventilating system. Martin Gray tapped his pen on the table. Someone cleared his throat. Finally Julie broke the silence. “Well, you could go for ‘innocent spouse.’ ”
“What’s ‘innocent spouse’?” I asked.
“It’s a code in the tax law that’s designed for cases where a spouse who has committed, say, fraud dies, but the surviving spouse doesn’t know anything about the fraud. The spouse can be declared innocent. When that status is awarded, the spouse is absolved of responsibility for the debt.”
That’s it! Thank God—that’s the solution. Before I could open my mouth, Julie added, “But you wouldn’t qualify.”
“What? Why not? I am innocent.”
“Because . . . .” She paused, gathered her breath, then poured out in a rush: “You had to know. How could you not know? Look at you!”
Look at me? Look at me? I wrapped my arms around myself. I could feel the fabric of my expensive black suit, but I felt naked.
“I didn’t know,” I said. “The only thing Howard told me was he was being audited and that the lawyers told him not to talk to me about it. So he didn’t. You were his lawyers. You must have told him that.”
They nodded but offered nothing else. I felt that in their eyes I was as guilty as my husband. Mr. Namorato said they would have better information in a couple of weeks when we would reconvene. In the meantime, I should start to get my house in order.
Next: The IRS agent's report read like the tabloid profile of a frivolous, spendthrift airhead.