Saturday, January 28, 2012
The Vancouver Sun: Will the taxwomen bring down the polygamist?
Winston Blackmore in a Vancouver Federal Court facing female judge and prosecutor
By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun January 27, 2012
Winston Blackmore may have finally met his match: the taxwomen.
It's money - not polygamy, not a constitutional challenge to religious freedom and not criminal charges - that's landed Canada's best known polygamist in federal tax court testifying under oath and facing a pair of formidable, demanding and, at times, impatient women, Judge Diane Campbell and Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch.
And it's so much money that it's possible the government could bankrupt Blackmore and financially ruin two of his brothers (Kevin and Guy) as well as the companies that the three of them operate.
The government claims he underestimated his income by $1.5 million over five years ending in 2006. Before his appeal, Blackmore and his company had been assessed back taxes, penalties and interest payments amounting to $4.3 million. If he loses the appeal, it's not clear how much more might be added in penalties, interest and court costs.
Blackmore claims his group of about 500 fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful fit the definition of "religious congregation" under the Income Tax Act.
The government says, at best, it's a breakaway sect of a breakaway sect (the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). At worst, it's one big, polygamous family looking for a tax break.
Although he's a preacher, Blackmore was often scarcely audible, especially when the buskers started up outside The Bay across the street from the court.
"Speak up," Campbell frequently urged him. She couldn't hear him. Journalists couldn't hear him. But Blackmore probably wants that.
At times as Blackmore quoted from scriptures or tried to explain his beliefs, the judge - a lawyer from Prince Edward Island with a master of laws degree from Harvard - might have wondered why me?
But, as one journalist mused, this may be her only tax case that will keep people amused over dinner.
For three straight days, Burch poked away at Blackmore's credibility and reliability, producing page after page of documents whether it was in a sworn affidavit from another court or a transcript of an inter-view on CNN with Larry King proving where he had contradicted himself.
As each day went by, his black suit became more rumpled. So did his answers and his demeanour.
Burch interrupted him if he tried to go off on a tangent. She badgered him when he tried to skate away from the simple question: Do you consider yourself a prophet?
Burch asked and re-asked that one. Finally, with raised voice, Campbell ordered: "Answer the question, please. It's a simple yes or no."
"No," he finally said. Did he want to take over the FLDS from jailed prophet Warren Jeffs? Did he want to start his own church? No.
"You don't have a church," Burch asserted.
"I have the priesthood work. I have a church congregation, so I have a church."
"But the only followers are your family and you don't want any others?" "I have plenty."
It was a flash of the defiant outlaw previously only seen on TV interviews and in documentaries rather than the small-town businessman/minister who showed up in court.
What about tithes? He collects cash and keeps no record.
" ... because it's nobody else's business?" Burch asked.
"Everyone [in the community] knows what the money is used for," Blackmore replied.
"That's not my question. You believe it's nobody else's business."
"That is my belief," he said. "It is nobody's business."
Once, Blackmore was ordered to raise $25,000 to prepare for "the worst" in response to the FLDS prophet's prophesy that the world was going to end - one of "maybe more than 15" such prophesies that Blackmore recalled. To get the money, Blackmore said he obtained an unsecured loan from the bank. Except for the all the tax money at stake, Blackmore was probably wishing for those days when he was still back at home in Bountiful with his 21 wives.
He'd been asked to name them and he'd struggled. It wasn't possible to recall the years those 21 marriages took place, Blackmore told Campbell with a rueful smirk. The judge didn't return his smile.
Oh sorry, Blackmore said the next day. There were really 22 wives. He'd forgotten one.
As for children, 47 were born between 2000 and 2006. Were there others? Probably, he said.
Burch suggested 20 more. Blackmore allowed that that was "probably fair." Burch spared both the judge and Blackmore the excruciating spectacle of him trying to name them.
Blackmore's testimony provided myriad details about his lifestyle - both large and small.
Unaffiliated fundamentalist Mormon men from Alberta, Utah and Missouri meet up with Blackmore's group at least once a year to talk about their beliefs and scope out marriage partners for their children.
Blackmore's family dining room is in a separate, 3,000-square-foot building that seats 175 to 200. The kitchen is equipped with industrial-sized fridges, stoves and ovens where, each day, the wives bake 15 to 20 loaves of bread.
Four of his wives are nurses and none was an accountant or a lawyer, which he might be wishing for now.
Blackmore's wives (with their children) live in groups of two or three in houses in and around Bountiful including a house across the border in Por-thill, Idaho.
He once had at least 15 credit cards in his name; only two that he used, the others were given to family members.
He owned a four-seater plane and bought a box for Kootenay Ice hockey games before the new stadium in Cranbrook was even built.
But the most bizarre detail? While he had 22 wives and 67 children, Winston Blackmore's home was a two-bedroom apartment that he shared with his mother.
The tax trial is scheduled to continue for another two weeks.