By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The taxman cometh — not with a bill, but with an unfortunate and troubling admission to Big Island taxpayers.
According to state Department of Taxation spokeswoman Mallory Fujitani, a contracted courier recently lost a bag containing tax documents filed by businesses and individual taxpayers with the Hilo and Kona state tax offices. The bag was supposed to be delivered to the air cargo terminal at Hilo International Airport for shipment to Honolulu.
“A bag from the back of the truck, I guess, disappeared,” Fujitani said Wednesday. “Upon arrival at the airport, they opened the back of the truck and the bag was missing. We actually had two things with them at the time: a box and a bag. The box was still in the back of the truck, but the bag was missing.”
The bag was lost on Oct. 4, Fujitani said. She identified the courier company as Security Armored Car & Courier Service of Hawaii. She said the truck was not an armored vehicle, but a truck with a camper top and a latch.
“They’re thinking (the back) might not have been latched,” she said.
According to a forthcoming advertisement placed with the Tribune-Herald to notify
affected taxpayers: “A police report was filed immediately and an investigation is in progress.”
“There is a case that has been initiated with (Hilo) Patrol Division,” Police Lt. Greg Esteban of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section confirmed. “… It does appear that the courier driver was making his pickups, and when he went down to the air cargo, a … bag was missing that contained these documents.”
Hilo Patrol Capt. Robert Wagner said that the missing bag also contained items from other clients of the courier service in addition to the lost tax documents.
Fujitani said the missing Kona office documents were mailed or dropped off between Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 while the Hilo office documents were mailed between Oct. 1-3 or dropped off on Oct. 3 and 4.
“Our estimate (of what’s missing) is approximately 75 documents, and then approximately six documents that were filed with the department that included the payment of cash,” she said. “Ironically, the payment of cash enabled us to identify exactly who it was (in the latter cases). So we have sent out letters to those taxpayers, individual letters … to notify them.”
Fujitani said the tax department doesn’t put cash in the courier bags.
“The cash is deposited locally in Hilo,” she said. “Because of that process, they were able to recover the persons identified, but not the forms. Part of the notification to the affected individuals is to (request they) come back to the department to re-file the forms.”
She said that the Kona documents were business license application forms and cancellation forms, while the lost Hilo items include what she described as “a range of documents” including business license and cancellation forms, general excise tax periodic and reconciliation forms as well as “some individual tax returns.”
“Checks were in there (and) some payment vouchers,” she said. “… Our estimate is up to five (individual tax returns). The estimate is three or four payment vouchers with checks.”
Asked for a monetary estimate on the lost checks, Fujitani replied: “I don’t think we are able to figure that out.”
The individual tax returns contain the taxpayers’ Social Security numbers, which are by law confidential. Those numbers, when compromised, can lead to identity theft.
“The department is very concerned about this, and obviously, we’re evaluating the process and all the movement of the documents from the district offices to the Oahu office, and we’re obviously re-evaluating the contract, as well as for future contracts,” Fujitani said. She said the tax department’s contract with the courier expires in November.
State Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones said his office has asked Security Armored Car & Courier “to provide information on their bonding company so that we can give the bonding company notice of a potential claim, but that has not been forthcoming yet.”
A mid-afternoon call on Wednesday to the Honolulu manager of the courier service was not returned by press time.
Businesses and individual taxpayers who believe their documents may be affected by this incident are asked to contact the department’s Hilo office at 974-6321.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.