Alaska’s economy is dominated by the oil, natural gas, and fishing industries, resources which it has in abundance. Tourism is also a significant part of the economy and that is where you can find some classic Alaska bars but for some time now these bars have been under pressure to stay in business and to do so have created tax problems and gained the attention of the IRS.
So what makes a classic Alaska bar?
A classic Alaska bar is a magical mixture — a touch of danger and a place where characters gather, featuring a strong relationship between bartender and patrons. More than fun, a classic Alaska bar is educational in a perverse sort of way. Past customers bring them up in conversation. People outside Alaska know of them.
What makes some bars unique is what used to be there before the bar existed – perhaps an old outpost or bootlegging operation or brothel.
Some of these classic Alaskan bars are set up as a dark and dank watering hole with sawdust on the floors and dollar bills and a bra or two nailed to wooden walls. While others may be more conventional. But the one thing that the classic Alaskan bars have in common is the atmosphere of the bar reflects the personality of its owner.
But as those owners get older and retire or pass away, a new crop of entrepreneurs are taking their shot at preserving legendary watering holes. One of those places is Louie’s Bar in the Southeast Juneau community of Douglas.
Louie’s Bar rose out of the ashes of the Great Douglas Fire of 1937, which incinerated downtown Douglas. Although the bar was not called Louie’s until 1974 when it was then inherited by a man named Louie Pusich.
But in 2013 Louie’s doors were closed – not because the owner died or retired. Instead it was closed by the Internal Revenue Service for nonpayment of taxes amounting to $1 million.
That’s right, P P’s Douglas Inn, formerly known as Louie’s Bar, was closed down and seized by the Internal Revenue Service for not paying federal taxes over the last fourteen years. The doors were locked, stools upturned on tables and lights dimmed just before the 2013 Independence Day holiday. Owner Patrick M. Peterson admitted that he did not pay federal taxes and knew that a shut down had to be coming.
Mr. Peterson was asked, how could he have racked up over $1 million in Federal taxes? He replied that “Paperwork is not my big suit. I just couldn’t keep up with it. Up until 1999, I had a good bookkeeper that was taking care of it for me. So, I had everything caught up with”. He then added that “staring with 1999, he did have others working on his bookkeeping and taxes but nobody came through with what I needed”.
Federal tax records showed that Peterson and his company Peterson Pacific Holdings owed nearly $1 million in back taxes. Three-quarters of that amount was in the form of unpaid quarterly employer taxes from early 1999 to the end of 2012. The rest is what the IRS calls a Trust Fund Recovery Penalty, or an attempt to recoup employees’ withholding, Medicare and Social Security taxes that the employer did not pass on to the federal government.
This is all evidenced by eleven federal tax liens totaling $997,188.16 that were filed against Peterson and his company between July 2011 and June 2013. They were for unpaid federal employer taxes during most of the reporting periods from First Quarter of 1999 to the Fourth Quarter of 2012.
Now, most business owners in this situation would look to reach a resolution with the IRS and avoid collection action or even worse – a business shutdown. But not Peterson. Instead he signed a quit claim deed for the Bar’s property to a Carol Collier of Riverview, Florida in exchange for $1.00 on May 20, 2013. This was at the same time when the City and Borough of Juneau (“CBJ”) property assessments showed the land valued at $67,900 and the structure valued at $174,100 for a combined total of $242,000. But don’t think that this transfer thwarted IRS collection action. You see when the IRS files a Federal Tax Lien, such lien follows any subsequent transfer of the property until the lien is paid in full or otherwise satisfied.
What is most unusual about Peterson’s case is that his business’ tax problems go back to 1999 – that’s about 15 years! How could the IRS have let this drag on for that long? Perhaps being in a remote location in the rugged State of Alaska made the growing Federal tax liabilities of Peterson’s business a low priority of IRS.
But the continued non-payment of such taxes is common, especially among struggling businesses. Owners of struggling businesses in financial trouble and having cash flow issues are saying “OK, if I don’t pay my suppliers, they’re not going to give me any inventory. If I don’t have any inventory, (then) I’m out of business. Just one quarter or one month and I’ll do better, and the IRS isn’t going to shut me down”. Unfortunately, when this practice continues over successive quarters, many businesses are unable to turn this around. The IRS calls this “pyramiding”.
The IRS is usually in contact with the taxpayer with almost-immediate notices and the assignment of a Revenue Officer to prevent such a huge pyramiding problem. But the eventual measures that were taken in Peterson’s case were an extraordinary step that the IRS had no choice to pursue. You see, Peterson did not owe just the IRS but also the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) for sales tax, CBJ for property taxes and the State of Alaska for unemployment insurance contributions.
So the IRS had no choice – it had to stop the bleeding and shut down Peterson’s business. A public auction would be later held and the proceeds applied to the back tax liability of Peterson’s business.
Abigail Trucano and her parents, James and Arbe Williams were unhappy that the landmark bar was forcibly closed by the IRS because of unpaid back taxes amounting to $1 million. Family members were regulars, as were many in the Southeast community of Douglas. “We thought this bar was so important to Douglas,” says Trucano. “I used to come in here all the time.”
So when the IRS auctioned the bar, the Williams’ snatched it up for $145,000 and invested heavily in its renovation. Their daughter, a co-owner, took charge of operations. Trucano had worked six years as a bartender at Juneau’s downtown tourist destination, Red Dog Saloon, dealing with swarms of cruise ship tourists.
The family contacted Louie Pusich, the former founder, obtaining his permission for the use of his name. The 76-year-old attended the grand opening in July 2014 which was reopened as Louie’s Douglas Inn.
Excited for its return, a handful of Douglas residents waited on the steps of the newly renovated Louie’s Douglas Inn a few minutes before the doors would open at 3:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. A celebratory drink was in order, certainly, but the real reason was to reunite with friends, including the new owners of the bar.
The eponymous Louie Pusich walked down the hill from his home with his wife, Doreen, to the bar he once owned. He ordered a Bud Light, which he jokingly referred to as a “Butt Light.” Looking out for his health, the 76-year-old doesn’t drink much these days.
The look of the bar has changed considerably since the renovation, with a more open layout, exposed brick, new fixtures and more. While the bar has received a makeover, there’s a lot that will remain unchanged about Louie’s Douglas Inn — it’s still the “living room of Douglas.” And not it has another great story behind it – that it was raised from the 2013 wrath of the IRS.
Don’t Take The Chance And Lose Everything You Have Worked For.
Protect yourself. If you are in danger of wage garnishments or bank levies or having a tax lien placed against your property, stand up to the IRS and your State Tax Agency by getting representation. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.
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