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Did Missouri Violate Tax Laws by Paying Executioners $250K in Cash?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on February 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Traditionally executioners wore hoods as it has always been understood that the business of death is grizzly. This is all the more true when the executioner is an authority, and that perhaps explains why the state of Missouri is reportedly paying its death penalty bills with, well, unmarked bills, envelopes stuffed with cash.

According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News -- a review of receipts, confidential communications, and cash withdrawals -- state officials spent nearly a quarter million in cash on executions since November 2013 alone. It is a strange tale of a trail of payments to nurses, anesthesiologists, and drug suppliers going by anonymous names like M1 and M2 and receiving envelopes stuffed with dollars. So, is Missouri violating federal tax law?

Missouri DOC Silent

Although payments over $600 to contractors must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service on 1099 forms, no such record seems to exist for the Missouri death penalty payments. The man who handed over the money to the execution participants is Missouri Director of Adult Institutions, David Dormire. He said in a deposition in 2014 that he does not know if these payments were ever reported to federal tax authorities.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has no records of 1099s issued to executioners and did not respond to BuzzFeed's request for comment, saying only the issue was under investigation. According to reporters, however, there is no record of such payments.

BuzzFeed reports: "I can't imagine why the state wouldn't be issuing 1099s here," said Bryan Camp, a former IRS employee, currently a law professor at Texas Tech. "I can't think of a good answer."

State Tax Evasion?

Suspicions about the state's cash payments have reportedly been raised before. Last year the Missouri Auditor's Office reviewed DOC execution payment procedures, although it did not address federal issues, like taxes and 1099s.

The result of the audit was not good. "The DOC did not record the amount of the cash payments on receipt forms signed by execution team members and did not always require the exchange of the cash payments to be acknowledged by a witness signature, as required by DOC procedures," the auditor's office found.

The head of the DOC has protested before that cash payments to executioners are traditional however, and that participants will otherwise refuse to be involved in death penalty cases. Tax evasion issues aside, this coy behavior surrounding state sanctioned killing raises questions about the morality of continuing with the ancient punishment.

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