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Man struggles to get tax refund after his wife dies

Steven Sweeney, 54, hugs his daughter, Amber Sweeney, 28, as he cries and talks about how much he misses his wife, Muriel, who died in March. He says he may lose everything if he cannot get the IRS to reissue a tax refund.
Steven Sweeney, 54, hugs his daughter, Amber Sweeney, 28, as he cries and talks about how much he misses his wife, Muriel, who died in March. He says he may lose everything if he cannot get the IRS to reissue a tax refund.
Published Jul. 3, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

Steven Sweeney is desperate. • The 54-year-old grandfather lost his job and his workman's compensation. His wife died in March. Now, he fears he is about to lose his home and car, won't be able to feed his 3-year-old grandchild or take care of a mentally disabled daughter. His only financial support comes from his other daughter, an assistant at a home for those with mental disabilities.

"I'm fixing to lose everything," he said.

All his hopes rest on his dead wife's tax refund check from the Internal Revenue Service.

He needs that $1,859 refund — now. But the check was issued in her name, and he can't cash it.

Sweeney thought he did everything right. He went straight to tax preparation company H&R Block — twice. He filled out the paperwork to have his wife's check reissued in his name. But his perseverance has been met with failure — and a visit from a team of IRS special agents and police officers.

"I was going to collapse right there," he said. "All I could picture was my kids by themselves and me in federal prison."

For eight weeks, Sweeney has been negotiating with the IRS.

Although he worked closely with a tax adviser at H&R Block, he said the IRS messed up his request for his wife's tax refund check three times.

Sweeney's tax adviser from H&R Block declined to comment because of privacy concerns but did confirm his difficulties getting the tax refund. IRS officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Twice, the IRS sent the check in his wife's name, despite Sweeney filling out the appropriate form to have the check issued in his name.

"Why would they put a deceased woman's name on a check?" said Jillian Sweeney, his 25-year-old daughter.

On June 23, Sweeney went to the St. Petersburg IRS office in his third attempt to get the check issue straightened out.

After waiting two hours, Sweeney said he was told the check would not arrive for another nine to 10 weeks. Sweeney said he frowned at the service agent then turned around in line.

At that point, Sweeney said, a man standing in line next to him said, "You know, she threw your form in the trash when you walked away.''

Angry, Sweeney left the office.

Reaching the parking lot, Sweeney said, "Now, I know why people shoot up places like this."

Hours later, IRS special agents and police officers swarmed outside his home near downtown St. Petersburg, according to a police report. Sweeney explained to the agents that he was frustrated and didn't want his remark to be taken literally. They left without arresting him.

Sweeney had been working as a welder but lost his job in February. He can't work while recovering from a knee injury and is awaiting the outcome of a suit to have his workman's compensation restored.

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When he lost his job, he said his wife of 28 years was in hospice.

She died of chronic asthma and cystic fibrosis, a battle she fought for her whole life.

"After she died, I was going to do myself in. I loved her so much," he said as he pointed to a bottle of painkillers, which his daughter, Jillian, had emptied out.

Sweeney said his two daughters and grandchild gave him the strength he needed to endure after his wife's death. But for a man who can't seem to get a break, it has been no easy task.

"It's been getting tough, he finally sees how much my mom really did do," Jillian Sweeney said.

He said his wife typically did their taxes, while he focused on his day job. Since her death, he has assumed new responsibilities.

"All my girls need me," he said. "I hope the IRS gets my check back before it's too late."

Cameron Saucier can be reached at csaucier@tampabay.com