Commentary

The sports world's biggest tax cheats

Originally Published: April 15, 2010
By Shane Igoe | Special to Page 2

The IRS recently announced that it would be setting up a special task force in 2010 focusing on foreign athletes and entertainers, especially targeting those "engaged in tennis, golf and music."

So at Page 2, we sharpened our pencils and sorted through stacks of papers (from an old blog piece we authored three years ago to a 1985 newspaper microfiche) to give you an update on these athlete tax dodgers.

We discovered that most of those who didn't heed the ides of April were not just foreign-born or confined only to the world of golf or tennis, but most were American-born baseball, basketball and football players and even some owners.

So without further ado, as we know some of you still have to make that last-minute run to the post office, here is a list of Page 2's "Top 15 Athlete Tax Cheats":

1. Tax Dodgers (tie)
A. Steve Garvey: Before Tiger there was Steve Garvey. Prior to their extramarital affairs' going public, both athletes had squeaky-clean images; in fact, Garvey was known as "Mr. Clean." Now Garvey's business affairs are as sullied as his personal ones; he owes $490,000 in back taxes.

B. Frank and Jamie McCourt: By carrying forward real estate losses from previous years, the McCourts were able to legally dodge paying state and federal taxes on over $100 million. How this and their bitter divorce plays out in the court of public opinion remains to be seen.

C. Chris Cohan: Speaking of California-based owners, Warriors honcho Chris Cohan is not so golden as he is fighting an IRS tax bill of $160 million. No wonder rumors have Oracle owner and America's Cup winner Larry Ellison bailing out the franchise.

2. Jose Canseco
Mr. 40/40 should have been more worried about his 1040. We have seen the result of Jose's home runs (foreclosures, rather) firsthand so it wasn't that much of a stretch to learn that the slugger had also gone deep in debt with the government. Canseco, who never hit more than .307 during his career, was just hit with a 320 (thousand) dollar tax lien.

Jose seems to be learning from his mistakes (or is he?) as he recently warned his Twitter followers to "Be careful with the irs they r coming down hard on people" only the next day to pimp himself out to fans for $1,000 with a "Who is interested in spending the day with me and seeing what my life is about?" message on March 4.

3. Kenny Powers
The down-and-out pitcher/middle school gym teacher from "Eastbound & Down" reminded fans in his HBO show: "How many times do I got to tell you this, Gatorade is still trying to get a piece of my ass, the IRS is up in my [expletive] and I need to take a job just so the government can't garnish my [expletive] wages."

No word on the specifics of what Kenny owes, but given Powers' promotional appeal at Ashley Schaeffer Motors, Kenny is hopefully now on the road to solvency.

4. Steffi Graf
What is it with Steffi's financial life? First, her father totally dropped the ball by evading paying taxes on $6.55 million of her earnings in 1997, and her husband Andre Agassi reportedly challenged a 27,500-pound tax tab (and lost) in the UK for the 1998-99 season.

5. Pete Rose
Poor Pete is a repeat offender ... the all-time hit king was hit with a $1 million tax lien in 2004, 15 years after he had to spend five months in federal prison on tax evasion charges in 1990. One item it appears Rose will never be able to itemize or expense is that special summer trip to Cooperstown (at least during his lifetime).

6. O.J. Simpson
The Juice got squeezed by the IRS for more than $700,000, according to 1997 reports.

7. Boris Becker
Becker was slammed with a $3 million tax bill but avoided jail time when he was convicted of tax evasion in 2002 after admitting he lived in Germany after first claiming to reside in Monte Carlo.

8. Meet the Mets (tie)
What is it with the following stars of '86 almost getting 86'd for failing to pay taxes?

A. Darryl Strawberry: Strawberry's foul play included failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars he earned at various baseball card signing events. Darryl was called out and ordered to pay $350,000 in back taxes in 1994, and since then the penalty has since ballooned to over $554,000 in 2009.

B. Kevin Mitchell: You might remember Kevin for his famous barehanded grab, but he could single-handedly put himself out as he is ranked the sixth-biggest IRS tax deadbeat in the entire state of California with over $5 million in taxes due.

C. Ron Darling: Once the darling of the Mets' pitching rotation, Ron is currently featured in the TBS, SNY and WPIX announcers rotation. He was known for his pickoff move, and the IRS is trying to pick off $544,197 in back taxes from Darling. As NBCNewYork aptly put it: "Hopefully [Darling] can work this out without following Koosman into the pen, but to be sure, we recommend keeping Lenny Dykstra's phone number as far away from Darling as possible."

D. Jerry Koosman: OK, so Jerry is not from the '86 Mets, but the 66-year-old star of the '69 Mets recently pleaded guilty to tax-evasion charges. According to the New York Post, "When [IRS agents] asked why he didn't file his taxes, he replied 'Why should I?' and asked to see a law that mandated it." You gotta believe, Jerry. You gotta believe.

9. Lawrence Taylor
In 1996, No. 56 got 86'd for failing to file his 1040. LT was sacked for three months house arrest and five years probation and was flagged for 500 hundred hours of community service.

10. Diego Maradona
Maradona's current worries involve the amount of rest he should give Messi before the World Cup, but prior to becoming coach of Argentina, Maradona was involved in a messy Italian tax imbroglio in 2001 which has not yet been to put to rest. We can't help but wonder if Diego argued that he thought his missing tax forms were filled out by "The Hand of God."

11. Anthony Mason
The former New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks star owes big bucks to the IRS. Anthony Mason has to be hoping his son, St John's freshman Anthony Mason Jr., will go lottery one day ... as Anthony Sr. is currently the 11th-biggest tax delinquent in the state of Wisconsin, owing more than $1.8 million in state and federal taxes.

12. Fielder's Choice (tie)
Between Prince and his estranged father Cecil, the IRS slammed the heavy hitters with a hefty bill of close to $700,000 ($409,149 and $273,123.29 respectively).

13 Dennis Rodman
You might always think of Rodman as a nut, but he actually set a precedent when he kicked a cameraman in the -- well, let's say crotch -- and was sued. The Worm would later settle out of court, but he wiggled his way into the tax laws as his case went all the way to the Supreme Court to determine if Uncle Sam would get a cut of out-of-court settlements. Some advice to a certain coed from Georgia ... come tax time, remember the Worm.

14. Boxing Hits (tie)
A. Thomas "Hitman" Hearns: Hearns was hit with a $448,000 tax bill on top of having over $500,000 in overdue mortgage payments. In order to give himself a fighting chance, the Hitman decided to hold an auction of some his boxing memorabilia earlier this month.

B. Don King: Given his haircut, who would have thought when King listed $2.5 million worth of hair products as a business expense that it would have raised eyebrows with the IRS? All kidding aside, King faced 29 counts of tax evasion in 1985 when it was alleged he diverted over $1 million in corporate receipts to his personal use.

15. Denny McLain
MLB's last 30-game winner almost saw 30 years in prison for drug trafficking, embezzlement and racketeering involving John Gotti Jr. in the 1980s. Now, McClain has a debt to the IRS of $1,019,998. We wonder which is scarier ... being on bad terms with Uncle Sam or Godfather Gotti?

Have any others? Tax our server ... please add your comments below.

Shane Igoe is a sports and entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He can be reached via his Twitter page.

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