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IRS says Ralph Hughes, an influential Republican businessman, owed $69.3 million in taxes

TAMPA — Influential Republican businessman Ralph Hughes, whose name is on Hillsborough's Moral Courage Award, died owing more than $69.3 million in unpaid taxes, the Internal Revenue Service says.

The IRS put the concrete magnate's beneficiaries on notice last month, filing a court claim against the trust to obtain unpaid income taxes, interest and penalties for 2003 through 2007.

Hughes' beneficiaries — his widow, Betty, and two children — dispute the IRS' claims and have filed a petition to have money held in the trust immediately released to them.

"The beneficiaries contest the position by the IRS and believe that there are no taxes owed by the trust," David H. Simmons, a lawyer representing the beneficiaries, said Monday.

The IRS claim is one more postscript on the life of a man who spent much of his life advocating smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation. Hughes died in June 2008 at age 77.

From rough beginnings that included a brief boxing career and scrapes with the law, he built a successful concrete casting business that rode Florida's various building booms and made him a millionaire in the process.

Along the way, he became a leading backer of fiscally conservative politicians and their causes across the state, but particularly in Hillsborough County. He channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to their campaigns, which were increasingly successful.

Hillsborough County commissioners posthumously renamed their annual Moral Courage Award after him. The commission's most prestigious award, it recognizes residents who stand up to government for the betterment of the community.

Critics blasted the decision, arguing that Hughes enjoyed influence only because of his money, and saying his Cast-Crete Corp. in Seffner bucked county environmental rules for years.

The five commissioners who voted for the renaming has each received campaign money from Hughes in the past.

In addition to the IRS, Simmons and attorney Bart R. Valdes, who also represents the heirs, also want to be paid. Court records detail their bill for legal services, which has risen to roughly $150,000 since January.

Valdes said that during the past six months, the trust has paid about $17 million in taxes believed to be owed.

Simmons and Valdes couldn't say how long ago the IRS contacted Hughes' beneficiaries. Other attorneys previously had been representing the family.

"The discussions with the IRS have been ongoing for some time," Simmons said. "We were only retained at the early part of this year."

"We hope we can amicably resolve this with the IRS from the beneficiaries' points of view," he said.

The lawyers have valued the trust's worth at about $30 million. They've asked that Betty Hughes receive a widow's allowance of $500,000 a year.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

IRS says Ralph Hughes, an influential Republican businessman, owed $69.3 million in taxes 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 11:19pm]
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