The Potluck

Charges say Chauvin pretended to live in Florida. How common is that?

By: - July 27, 2020 1:26 pm

Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s booking photo. Photo courtesy of Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer accused of second-degree murder in the killing of George Floyd, now faces different allegations in Washington County: He and wife Kellie Chauvin didn’t file their taxes, thereby underreporting more than $460,000 of income, according to the charges.

Authorities allege the hustle was the type that may be familiar to some Minnesotans: They claimed they live in Florida. 

Coming so soon after the murder charge, the nine new felony charges for aiding and abetting tax fraud raises some questions, especially since the Chauvins have not filed taxes since 2015. Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue, answered our queries: 

Q: How long can a family go without filing taxes before the state will come after them? 

Before the state brings criminal charges against a resident for failing to file a tax return, the Department of Revenue makes several attempts to contact that person by mail, sending them a “commissioner filed return” detailing what they owe. If the taxpayer still doesn’t respond, investigators have to decide whether their failure to pay is the result of an honest mistake, or if there is evidence to suggest they knowingly committed tax fraud, Brown said. 

Minnesota has charged 22 people for fraud so far this year, and over the past few years has charged an average of 33 cases annually, Brown said.

In Chauvin’s case, investigators found that he and his wife both underreported their income on Minnesota tax returns and avoided paying taxes in Minnesota altogether for the years 2017-2019 by claiming to be Florida residents. Chauvin was registered to vote in Florida, and his real estate license and car registration both listed Florida addresses. But investigators used data from bank transactions and Minneapolis Police payroll records to determine that Chauvin was primarily a Minnesota resident. 

Interviews with the owners of several Minneapolis businesses where he worked off-duty security and documents found in a search of Chauvin’s home revealed that he had also failed to report extra income outside of his police work, while his wife hadn’t reported the income from her photography business, adding up to a total unpaid tax bill (plus penalties) of almost $38,000. 

Q: How common is this kind of tax fraud?

A: Minnesota tax authorities rarely charge people for falsely claiming residency in another state; Brown pointed to only one other recent case, charges leveled in December 2019 against William Sundstrom and Elizabeth Cassady. Like the Chauvins, Sundstrom and Cassady procured driver’s licenses from outside Minnesota — in their case, South Dakota — in order to represent themselves as non-residents, despite the fact that the location of their primary home and financial transactions showed otherwise.

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Aviva Waldman

Reformer intern Avi Waldman is a junior at the University of Chicago working on a degree in English language and literature. She edits and reports for the independent student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. She previously interned at San Diego CityBeat. In her free time, she enjoys cross-country road trips and is a proud cat parent.