Hedge fund king Robert Mercer helped create Donald Trump the politician. And even though his company owes $7 billion in taxes, he may never see jail.
A May 2017 investigation of Mercer by McClatchy’s DC bureau has recently resurfaced following the release of President Trump’s proposed overhaul of the U.S. tax system, and it appears his company is in an intense legal war with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that may or may not be ended by President Trump’s appointment of the current IRS chief’s successor later this month. Commissioner John Koskinen’s term is set to expire in November.
Mercer and his daughter Rebekah were the majority owners of prominent hate site Breitbart.com, which was headed by Steve Bannon prior to his ascension to the White House as President Trump’s top strategist (Bannon is back at the helm of Breitbart after being fired earlier this year). Even though Robert Mercer has since sold his stake in Breitbart, but his influence in the rise of both Trumpism and the white supremacist “alt-right” is undeniable.
Mercer’s hedge fund company, Renaissance Technologies LLC, has been fighting with the IRS over payment of $6.8 billion in back taxes. The federal government argues that Renaissance’s “basket options,” in which banks loan money for companies to purchase derivatives to be held in “baskets,” should be taxed as regular income rather than at a preferential rate for investments. According to McClatchy, Renaissance used basket options to cut tax rates on $34 billion in profits, and argues it is in full compliance with the IRS.
While Mercer is inexplicably out of jail despite owing the government billions, five others were not so lucky.
1. Sunceria Morris
In 2014, single mother Sunceria Morris was in debt to the city of South Euclid, Ohio (A suburb of Cleveland) for just $190 for a traffic ticket and associated court costs. However, because Morris only had roughly $1,800 per month to support both herself and her son, and because she feared what might happen at her assigned court date, she didn’t show up.
This process repeated itself when Morris was stopped on two other occasions in 2015 and 2016 in the Cleveland area for failing to use a turn signal and for driving with expired license plates. After both she and her boyfriend obtained good-paying jobs, she turned herself in at three different courthouses in an attempt to clean up her record. The Beford, Ohio municipal court ordered Morris to spend a night in jail while waiting for a judge to hear her case, all over traffic tickets.
2. David Stojcevski
32-year-old David Stojcevski died in jail after being arrested for failure to pay a $772 traffic ticket. Stojcevski — a recovering drug addict — had prescriptions for Klonopin, Xanax, and Oxycodone to manage his withdrawal symptoms. However, guards at the Macomb County Jail never provided Stojcevski with his medication despite being informed of the prescriptions at the time of his booking.
When Stojcevski complained of the intense pain he was in after being deprived of his medication, guards had him placed on suicide watch, meaning he was stripped naked and put in a cell with a 24-hour surveillance camera. Addiction expert Diane Rockwell told a local news outlet that when viewing Stojcevski’s final moments on the camera footage in which the desperate man crawled under his mattress, he looked like “an animal [that’s] crawling underneath something to die.”
“It’s unconscionable that they let this human being suffer like this,” Rockwell said.
Federal prosecutors did not file any criminal charges against Macomb County jail officials in relation to Stojcevski’s death.
3. Nicole Bolden
After getting into a traffic accident in the St. Louis, Missouri area in March of 2014 — for which she was not at fault — the responding officer found 34-year-old Nicole Bolden had warrants out for her arrest for unpaid traffic tickets amounting to just $1,758 and subsequently arrested her. Bolden was told that since there were no court dates until May, she would either be incarcerated until then or until she posted bail. After borrowing $150 from a cousin and using another $120 from her child support card, Bolden bonded out 26 days later.
The conditions in the jail where Bolden was being held were beyond putrid. Her attorney told The Guardian that on one occasion, she was put in a cell with a heroin addict who repeatedly vomited on herself and the floor, and Bolden was forced to clean up the mess herself. After being denied a shower for four days, jailers finally allowed her to wash herself, though she had to constantly bat away a cloud of gnats that were in the shower’s drain while bathing.
Bolden’s lawsuit was eventually settled, and the single mother is expected to be awarded up to $200,000 in restitution.
4. Jared Thornburg
In 2012, oil rig worker Jared Thornburg was homeless after losing his job and company housing after suffering a chemical burn on the job. While driving a defective vehicle around Westminster, Colorado, a police officer stopped him, issuing fines of $306.25.
Because Thornburg was only able to make an initial payment of $61.25, Westminster Municipal Presiding Judge John Stipech ordered him to pay the fine or spend 10 days in jail, due to a standing order he issued in 2001 declaring anyone who doesn’t pay a fine — no matter the price — will have to be incarcerated for 10 days. According to the Denver Post, Thornburg opted to spend 10 days in jail because he was simply unable to pay the remaining balance.
Thornburg’s brief incarceration came as he was about to secure employment at a fast food restaurant. He stayed on friends’ couches following his stint in jail until finding another job at a grocery store.
5. Lauryn Hill
In the 1990s, Fugees frontwoman Lauryn Hill sold millions of albums, and recorded several chart-topping hits, like “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready or Not.” The singer was in her early twenties at the time, and likely didn’t pay close attention to her financial recordkeeping, leading her to plead guilty in 2012 for failure to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million earned between 2005 and 2007 (just 0.02 percent of the $7 billion Robert Mercer owes the IRS).
During a May 2013 hearing, Hill told Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Areo that she lived “very modestly,” and that most of the money she made from her music career went to other people. Later that year, the singer was confined to a minimum-security facility in Connecticut for three months, but was released early on good behavior. She settled her overdue tax bill with the IRS following her release.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.