Former pro football player Plaxico Burress has been indicted by a New Jersey grand jury in the first prosecution under a new statute that makes a failed electronic funds transfer the same as a bad check.
The indictment, handed down on April 22, charges the 37-year-old former NFL player with one count of issuing a bad check or electronic funds transfer, and one count of willful failure to pay state tax, which are both considered third-degree crimes, according to the Mercer County, N.J. prosecutor’s office on Thursday.
In 2014, the New Jersey Legislature recognized that as a result of electronic banking transactions, the problem of failed EFTs has become a serious issue. Last September, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law to fix a longstanding discrepancy that treated bounced paper checks and insufficient electronic payments differently.
The new law allows criminal penalties to be imposed on people who send insufficient e-payments just as if they were bounced checks. A failed electronic payment occurs when a taxpayer filing online designates a financial institution from which to draw payment, and the account either does not exist or there are insufficient funds in the account.
The new law took effect on Sept. 20, 2014. Burress filed his 2013 income tax return with the New Jersey Division of Taxation on Oct. 20, 2014 showing that he owed $47,903 in tax. Burress submitted an electronic funds transfer to the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services for the amount of the tax due, but the EFT failed. The division then generated an automatic letter notifying Burress of the failed EFT and requesting that he submit full payment. Burress did not respond and the case was referred to the State Department of the Treasury’s Office of Criminal Investigation, also known as OCI.
Next, a second letter was generated and sent to Burress notifying him of the failed EFT and requesting that he contact OCI to address the matter. But Burress did not respond. OCI then sent Burress a personal letter via certified and first class mail notifying him about the failed EFT and asking him to contact OCI.
The certified letter was returned unclaimed and the first class mail was not returned. OCI notified Burress’s tax preparer for 2013 of the failed EFT and asked him to contact Burress and inform him about the seriousness of the situation, but Burress did not respond. On Feb. 4, 2015, OCI filed a criminal complaint charging Burress with one count of issuing a bad EFT and one count of willful failure to pay tax. Third-degree crimes carry up to five years in state prison and a $15,000 fine.
Burress formerly played for the New York Giants, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to weapons charges after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a New York City nightclub because a pistol he was carrying in his waistband slid down the thigh of his pants and discharged. He was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release.
Burress’s spokesman told TMZ Sports that the former NFL player was unaware that he owed state taxes. When he saw that the IRS had taken money out of his bank account, he assumed that took care of his tax debts and didn’t realize it only applied to his federal taxes. The spokesman also blamed Burress’s accountant and said Burress had fired the firm, adding, “They did a terrible job.”
Burress has a new tax attorney who is helping him pay off his tax debts with the state and clear his name. The spokesman also blamed prosecutors for seeking publicity. “Prosecutors are clearly trying to take advantage of a guy who’s been in the news negatively and trying to make an example out of him,” he said.
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