Civic Skinny

October 21, 2010


A tax lien on Funk; Judge Bennett (again); a misplaced obit


Dave Funk has his own plan for dealing with income taxes: Don’t pay them.

It’s similar to Brad Zaun’s private plan for health-care bills.

A year ago — on Sept. 28, 2009 — the Internal Revenue Service put a federal tax lien on Funk’s house in Runnells. The lien said Funk owed $32,447.32 in taxes for 2008. “We have made a demand for payment of this liability,” the lien notice says, “but it remains unpaid.”

County records indicate the lien was released — meaning the taxes were paid — on June 7 of this year. Coincidentally, that was one day before the June 8 primary in which Funk and Zaun and five other Republicans vied for the right to run against Leonard Boswell in November. Zaun won. (Zaun himself had judgments against him for four years for medical bills he ignored — until he decided to run for Congress.) Funk finished third and promptly announced he would run for Polk County supervisor against incumbent Tom Hockensmith.

“It’s time we elect a Supervisor who is willing to go to Des Moines and fight for fiscal responsibility, smaller government, and lower taxes,” Funk said in announcing for supervisor. He didn’t disclose that his own route to lower taxes was to not pay them.

Funk has been endorsed by Iowans for Tax Relief and Ed Failor, the group’s president. “Dave Funk is different,” Failor said.


It’s not that Funk didn’t have any income. As Cityview pointed out last month, the onetime Northwest Airlines pilot is getting a $72,000-a-year disability pension from Northwest Airlines as well as $62,000 a year in worker’s comp — an amount he got after filing a “petition in arbitration” with the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner three years ago.

Funk had bumped his head a couple of times — once in the cockpit and once as he was trying to boost himself into a plane — and he no longer could pass the physical for being a pilot. The state agency ruled that he is “permanently and totally disabled,” that he “has trouble sleeping and has not slept through the night in two years...has lost range of motion in his neck...sees stars in his left eye...[and] has numbness in his left thumb.” It also said the Vicodin he was taking for the pain had diminished his ability to concentrate, so perhaps he just couldn’t concentrate on getting his income taxes paid on time. ...

It turns out Skinny isn’t the only one keeping an eye on the bizarre statements from Federal Judge Mark Bennett in Sioux City. A lawyer has a folderful of stuff that she showed us the other day. The judge has had heated disagreements with some assistant U.S. attorneys in Sioux City — mainly over sentencing issues — and the disagreements themselves ended up in court a few years ago.

According to one affidavit, Bennett came to court with what the judge carefully described as “about a six-and-a-half-foot two-by-four on a pole totaling about six and a half feet. The two-by-four is about three feet long and held together with gray tape.” He then explained that “it says ABMT,” which stood for “attorney behavior modification tool.” He went on: “It’s not quite long enough to reach counsel table, but they may not want to get too close....Hopefully, I won’t have to use it too often.”

At another point, according to the affidavit, Bennett told an assistant U.S. attorney that he was “fucking sick and tired” of the office objecting to his sentencing recommendations, adding that if they didn’t “back off” he would “make life a living hell” for the U.S. attorneys who appeared before him.”

At still another point, he allegedly said to an assistant U.S. attorney: “I’m fucking sick and tired of you always disagreeing with me! How many fucking cases have you researched on the double-jeopardy issue? You’re always fucking disagreeing with me without having done any fucking research.” And: “I don’t have a problem with the fact that (a certain assistant U.S. attorney) disagrees with my ruling. Hell, he’s not smart enough to agree with one of my rulings.”

After Barack Obama was elected, Bennett knew that the days were numbered for Matt M. Dummermuth, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Iowa, who ultimately would be replaced by an Obama appointee. In January of 2009, Bennett wrote Dummermuth:

“I am not sure when your tenure as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa will come to an end. I believe you missed hundred of opportunities to do greater justice by your failure to follow policies that are consistent with the vast majority of other United States Attorney’s Offices across the nation....However, while it deeply troubles me that [certain] holdings of the United States Supreme Court...were all but ignored during your tenure..., I wanted to personally thank you for your dedicated public service....”

And in a memo a year ago to lawyers involved in a case before him, he wrote: “First, in my 34 years of experience as a lawyer and a judge over 90 percent of the obstructionist conduct I have witnessed comes from large national law firms like yours....I know you all want to bill your clients for the preparation of thousands of needless exhibits (yes, I did write that) but it is not going to happen.” He referred to their exhibits as “likely junk” and threatened he would impose on them “eye-popping sanctions.” He also said “I do not tolerate whining lawyers,” and he ended his screed by saying, “Don’t worry, I will beat you all to the punch of making this e-mail part of the official court record.” ...

Politicians in both parties say Chet Culver is indeed closing the gap with Terry Branstad, who didn’t help himself the other day by saying he would cut benefits of state workers. State workers haven’t been great fans of Culver, but if they woke up hating him the other morning they loved him by day’s end after reading Branstad’s comments, one top Democrat noted. Top Democrats still think Culver will lose, but they think he’ll close the gap enough to help endangered Democratic legislators squeak through. ...

A note from a reader: “Larry Scalise may be in line for some more work as special prosecutor if Brenna Findley upsets Tom Miller. She is currently an associate attorney in Whitaker Hagenow GBMG law firm in Des Moines. The Whitaker stands for Matt Whitaker, the former US District Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. The same Matt Whitaker that represents Wendy Runge, who is currently facing charges from the film tax credit scandal that were brought by Tom Miller’s office. If Findley pulls the upset, she would undoubtedly be conflicted from continuing the prosecution.”

That’s a big if. …

From an obituary of Robbie Sears on page 3 of the Metro section of The Des Moines Register last Friday: “Most people will remember him as their personal mechanic, putting other people’s needs ahead of his own in order to provide assistance.” In fact, most people will remember Robbie Sears as the guy written up on the facing page who shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, shot and wounded another woman, and then killed himself.

A guy suggested that the paid obituary, with its smiling picture of the dead man, might have been better on a different page. CV


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