Michael Dix and Tracy Burns were busted for
marijuana and cocaine possession. Nine months
later, cops seized everything from their pickup
truck to a pooper scooper.
BY GEOFF S. FEIN
| Michael Dix
and Tracy Burns wear the look of frustration, anger and fear. They moved to Adel
four years ago from Waukee. Dix, a plumber, came from East Dubuque, Ill., because
of the construction boom and to be closer to his family. The couple's home is
several miles off Highway 6. The only noise they hear is the sounds of cooing doves
and barking dogs. Inside, borrowed furniture sits upon torn-up floors and
semi-finished walls, the byproduct of a remodeling project.
Their home is an empty nest.
But it wasn't always that way.
They had all the things a young couple could want: furniture, a stereo and a VCR. Dix had his tools and a Ford pick-up.
And they both had a cocaine problem.
"I was freaked out. I
begged them not to take things. I sat here and watched them rob me."
On March 10, the couple's home was turned upside down
as Dallas County Sheriff's deputies searched for drugs. Months earlier, deputies
searched through their garbage for drugs, but came up with only a few seeds and a straw,
It was, however, enough to get a search warrant for the home.
The sheriff was originally tipped off by neighbors who complained about increased traffic on Prospect Ave., a sign of drug dealing, says Dallas County Sheriff Art Johnson.
Because no one was home during the raid, deputies left a letter informing the couple of their pending arrest.
"Our attorney called them. We agreed to turn ourselves in," Burns says.
But the Dallas County Sheriff couldn't wait.
"They went behind our lawyer's back and arrested us," Dix says.
Burns, 26, and Dix, 37, were arrested March 14 on charges of possession with intent to deliver. The raid turned up 5 grams of marijuana and 48 grams of cocaine.
Though they had more than an ounce and a half of cocaine, Burns and Dix deny they were dealers, instead claiming it was for their own use.
On June 26, Burns and Dix pleaded guilty to not having a drug tax stamp. The Dallas County attorney dismissed the possession charges, avoiding a trial. The couple were placed on five years probation, paid fines and entered drug treatment.
Six months later they're adhering to the court's orders, staying off drugs and working to turn their lives around, Burns says.
Little did Burns or Dix know their past would come back to rob them.
On Dec. 15, Burns returned to the Dallas County Sheriff's department to retrieve items taken during the March search. She got back all but one - a videotape. The next day she was sitting in her living room when a deputy drove up.
"I thought he was coming to drop off the tape," Burns says.
Until she say the other vehicles.
Deputies and agents of the Iowa Department of Revenue had come to collect on the couple's failure to pay the drug stamp tax.
The tax, which sounds more like a leftover from the Revolutionary War, is a way for Iowa to collect on the multi-million dollar drug trade.
"It's a means to have this segment of society pay its fair share," says Lucille Hardy, an assistant with the attorney general's revenue division. "It's revenue the state is entitled to."
Since Sept. 1990, Iowa has required a stamp be affixed to a baggie of marijuana or a vial of cocaine. Any illegal drug requires a stamp. And it ain't cheap.
A $5 tax is due on each gram of marijuana; $250 on each gram of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine; $750 on each unprocessed marijuana plant; and $400 per 10 pills, from the moment of possession.
"This is a business with no income tax, no sales tax, so we enacted an excise tax," Hardy says.
Iowa law prevents the Department of Revenue from sharing information on drug tax stamp applicants with law enforcement agencies. Even with that assurance, few people are lining up to admit they are in possession.
A program manager with the Department of Revenue says few if any stamps have been sold, except maybe to stamp collectors.
Some attorneys have begun telling clients to get the tax stamps, Hardy says.
"The number of applicants is small in comparison to the number of people in possession of drugs," she says.
Burns and Dix owed the government $24,242.40, half in taxes, half in penalties.
Failure to pay results in immediate collection.
That's what the state did.
During the three-hour seizure, Lori Dennis, an agent of the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance, and seven sheriff's deputies took six truckloads of items. Among them were stereo equipment, a bug zapper, pooper scooper, bread box, couch and love seat, milk can, 50-foot roll of air hose, Christmas presents, a Thighmaster, Burns' engagement rings and Dix's 1994 Ford Ranger.
"I was freaked out. I begged them not to take things," Burns says. "I sat here and watched them rob me."
The state took more than 150 items.
Neither Burns nor Dix had any idea they owed the money.
"No one contacted us about the law," Dix says. "The Department of Revenue said most people don't pay. This is why they don't give notice."
The notice sent to Burns and Dix was postmarked the afternoon of Dec.16, the day of the raid. It's possible the notice wasn't even sent until afterward.
Dennis wouldn't comment.
"We don't have a lot of advance warning, says Don Cooper, Administrator of Compliance with the Department of Revenue. "The usual process is to hand deliver it. It's not a typical case to mail notice of the tax."
Nothing about this case is typical.
No advance warning is given because violators are usually unwilling to pay the tax. They may hide, sell off their possessions or flee, making it harder for the state to collect, Cooper says.
But Burns and Dix say they were willing to work out a payment plan. And it's doubtful they would have fled - both have jobs and own their home.
"They were never given a chance to work on a payment plan," says Burns' attorney Dean Stowers.
The number of people prosecuted for not buying the stamps is unknown. Hardy says the Attorney General's office collected more than $400,000 in back taxes in 1996.
While the Department of Revenue states it's willing to work out payment plans, acceptance of a plan is at the department's discretion.
"They are saying they use discretion, but they can't say how. Is it up to the individual revenue officer?" Stowers says.
Truth is, Burns and Dix never got the chance to ask about a payment plan.
The letter sent to them said if they wanted to discuss a payment plan, they should call the Department of Revenue on Dec. 16. But they didn't get the letter, sent registered mail, until Dec. 18, two days after the raid.
During the seizure, Burns says law enforcement went through the house tagging items, acting as if they were on a shopping spree.
"They made it sound like they were taking things for their own personal use," Burns says.
When she asked to call her attorney, Burns says not only did officers refuse to let her answer the phone without paying $24,242.40, but they tagged the phone and seized it.
"I sat in the corner of the room and they stood over me," Burns says. "They said if we listened to them this wouldn't happen."
Burns and Dix both believe the reason for the seizure was that they refused to be snitches. When they were arrested in March, the couple says Sheriff's Investigator Kelly Sutten asked them to turn over names. "The police were upset because the people wouldn't become snitches. The cops carried a grudge over this," Stowers says.
Sutten was on vacation and unavailable to comment.
Dix was in the middle of remodeling the house. The job was made a bit easier when police broke down the door and ripped up the carpet. Losing his tools and feeling victimized by the authorities, however has made it hard for him to continue.
"I got so much hard work into this," Dix says. "It's hard to control my anger."
Dix was hoping to spend some time over his vacation doing work around the house. But not now.
"I'm trying to keep occupied. I have no tools and I'm afraid to buy anything. They could come back and take them."
Tools were not the only thing he lost.
When authorities took his truck, they directly affected the terms of his probation. Dix can no longer drive to weekly recovery meetings in Des Moines. He's now trying to make arrangements with his probation officer so he isn't charged with violating probation.
"No one is making much effort to work with us," Dix says.
Burns says she has trouble sleeping and has gone to a doctor because of the raid. "It's scary. They can come in any time and take things," she says.
Burns and Dix say they put in long hours at work to keep their minds off their situation.
"It's not bad working long hours when you don't have much to come home to," Dix says.
"We knew we had five years ahead of us, but we were doing really well. This is like a smack in the face," Burns says. "Now we just sit here and look at nothing we have."
The police wrote this list of items they took from the home of Tracy Burns and Michael Dix for failure to pay the stamp tax on their drugs
January 7, 1998, Page 7-8