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Carol Ross Joynt: Excerpt From “Innocent Spouse”
Comments () | Published June 2, 2011
I walked out of the building back onto the same street and the same daylight that were there when I arrived, but everything was different. The numbing fog of widow’s grief that had been present when I’d gotten up and dressed that morning was gone, replaced by fear. My hands shook. Before starting the car, I had to take a few deep breaths to calm down, to focus. For the first time in my life, I felt trapped.

And Howard, the person I’d always gone to, who would listen and understand and give me good advice and protect me, was gone, too. The irony that the man responsible for this mess was the same man I yearned to run to didn’t hit me then, but it did soon enough.

The IRS agent on the case was a woman named Deborah Martin. “She’s a junior agent,” Mr. Namorato said. “That’s why she’s so eager to get a big dollar amount. This is huge for her.”

Deborah Martin submitted her report on April 16, 1997, the day I returned to the lawyers’ office. I knew the damage done by my earlier appearance—the widow in the Chanel suit—had only emphasized the image of me as a coconspirator in a tax fraud, the client who “had to know.” This time, I was the one who dressed casually.

Deborah Martin, I was surprised to discover, was not present. When I asked about meeting her, Cono Namorato’s response was swift: “No. We’ll keep you away from her. No contact. That’s what we’re here for.”

It was clear my lawyers viewed me as the person Deborah Martin described in the opening of her report. I was a woman living a “lavish” and “luxe” lifestyle. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t known we couldn’t afford the life we lived. I drove a Range Rover. Yes, I drove it. Still did. In fact, it was parked outside. I also had a weekday live-in babysitter and a weekend babysitter who doubled as a housekeeper. I had a demanding job as a producer for Larry King Live, for God’s sake. And when we had a big dinner party, I hired a cook who worked for a catering company. I thought we could afford it.

And so it went. Deborah Martin’s report read like the tabloid profile of a frivolous, spendthrift airhead. Everything she wrote was technically true, although highly embellished. It documented every dime Howard had spent in the past five years. All of his credit-card charges, all of the checks, money he’d deposited, all of his investments. 

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According to Martin’s report, when I wasn’t off on a luxurious holiday aboard a private jet or yacht, I sunbathed by the pool at my “estate” on the Chesapeake Bay while relying on my domestic staff to attend to my needs. That wasn’t how I saw my life, but it was how a young IRS agent chose to describe it. I’d thought we were living within our means. I hadn’t been the one paying the bills. I hadn’t known Howard couldn’t pay for the life we were living. My protests either didn’t register with my lawyers or simply sounded lame to them.

Martin’s report explained how Howard had run his expenses through Nathans and operated the business at a loss. Essentially the only income reported was mine, which created a discrepancy of at least several hundred thousand dollars. While Howard withheld about $200,000 in federal taxes from his employees’ paychecks, he didn’t send that to the government. He kept it for himself, for Nathans, and for some favored employees.

As I continued reading, each page felt heavier. When I got to the part where it detailed that my husband had written off the live-in babysitter’s wages as “trash collection” and some of his Christmas presents to me as “uniforms,” I stopped reading. I had reached my threshold of humiliation, embarrassment, shame, and guilt—and before an audience, too. Deborah Martin had caught a man who had broken the law, who’d committed tax fraud against the US government. It was as simple as that. The crook was my husband. It didn’t matter that he was ashes. The government wanted its money, and because dead people don’t write checks, I would be the one to pay. I was the defendant.

Next: The total was a breath shy of $3 million

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Posted at 11:55 AM/ET, 06/02/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles