Billionaire Used Massive Oil Spill to Avoid Paying Income Tax for 14 Years

After the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded in 2010, environmentalists surveying the injury within the Gulf of Mexico came across a thriller. The water had oil slicks that, due to the currents, couldn’t have originated from the location of the infamous accident.

With the assistance of satellite tv for pc imagery, they discovered that oil was leaking from a distinct spill, a six-year-old catastrophe the general public knew nearly nothing about. In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan had swept the legs out from underneath a 40-story oil-drilling platform operated by an organization known as Taylor Power, inflicting a leak that continues to this present day. It’s the longest-running — and by one estimate, the largest — U.S. oil spill ever recorded, a contentious saga that prompted a current 60 Minutes segment.

It’s been an environmental nightmare for the area — however an enormous tax bonanza for Phyllis Taylor, the proprietor of Taylor Power and the fallen rig.

In keeping with ProPublica’s evaluation of a secret trove of tax knowledge, from 2005 to 2018, Taylor took in some $444 million in earnings, most of it from wages, curiosity, dividends and capital positive factors, and didn’t pay a cent in federal earnings tax.

That’s in important measure as a result of she was capable of remodel cash her firm was compelled to spend cleansing up the oil spill into a superbly authorized nine-figure tax write-off for herself.

Representatives for Taylor, now 80, didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark.

Taylor is a part of a set of ultrawealthy Individuals who handle to keep away from federal earnings taxes for years on finish by using their businesses or leisure interests to throw off sufficient deductions to offset the hundreds of thousands and even billions of {dollars} they make. We’ve nicknamed the group the most important losers. Taylor’s story exhibits simply how profitable it may be to be a member of that individual membership.

Patrick Taylor, Phyllis Taylor’s husband, based Taylor Power in 1979. He would ultimately change into the richest man in Louisiana and loved the form of way of life that went with the title. He raced speedboats on the Mississippi, rode bulls in rodeos and skydived greater than 500 instances. However he usually stated he most well-liked to be recognized for his function in advocating for the creation of a beloved state program that offered scholarships to Louisiana schools and universities.

Taylor Power operated out of an ornate four-story mansion in New Orleans, off Lee Circle, the place a statue of Robert E. Lee stood till 2017. Feminine staff weren’t allowed to put on pants, and staff addressed their superiors as “sir” or “ma’am.” Patrick’s workplace had hand-painted blue-and-white silk wallpaper from a Russian palace, whereas a close-by eating room featured marble fountains from an 18th-century French chateau. Rooms had been named after Ronald Reagan and the British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Phyllis minimize an uncommon determine on the planet of brash wildcatters. She began out within the enterprise working for an additional Louisiana oilman, typically being mistaken for his coffee-bearing assistant earlier than he stunned the lads within the room by saying she was his legal professional. She married Patrick Taylor in 1964 and served on the board of administrators of Taylor Power whereas he ran the corporate.

Deemed the “gentle dove” of Louisiana for her philanthropy, Phyllis Taylor supported native training and artwork establishments, in addition to housing for the homeless. She cherished to journey, and in an interview with Condé Nast Traveler, extolled the thrill of circumnavigating the world: “The distinction between a brief cruise and a world cruise is evening and day, storm and calm, fleeting thought and thoughtfulness. With an prolonged cruise you take up the approach to life of life at sea; with the good benefit of getting a crew and employees that treats you want royalty.” A frequent hunter, Taylor proudly displayed the pores and skin and head of a leopard she shot in Zambia.

The yr Ivan hit modified Phyllis Taylor’s life. A few months after the hurricane, her husband died at age 67. At 63, she took over the corporate.

Deaths create a spectacular tax boon for the rich, what some specialists contemplate one of many largest loopholes within the code.

Taylor Power had ballooned in worth within the 25 years since its founding. If Patrick Taylor, who managed the overwhelming majority of the corporate, had bought it whereas he was alive, the Taylors would have owed an enormous sum in capital positive factors tax. However all of that worth disappeared at loss of life for the needs of taxes due to a broadly decried provision of the code that can price the U.S. Treasury greater than $500 billion in misplaced taxes over the following decade. Phyllis inherited the corporate and have become the wealthiest girl in Louisiana, price an estimated $1.6 billion. There’s no property tax for property transferred to a partner.

In 2008, 4 years after Taylor Power turned conscious of the spill, the corporate had but to wash it up. Taylor determined she wished out of the enterprise. She bought the entire firm’s oil rigs and different property, aside from the broken rig, to 2 South Korean entities. Taylor, who owned about 95% of the corporate, based on her former CEO, obtained near $1.2 billion of the roughly $1.25 billion price ticket.

But Taylor was legally allowed to painting the sale to the IRS in a really totally different mild — and that in flip trusted the truth that the legislation permits house owners of personal firms quite a lot of leeway in figuring out the worth of their property. Since Taylor was inheriting the corporate tax-free, she and her advisors had each cause to assign it a excessive preliminary worth, as a result of that will imply that when she later bought the property, the excessive worth would decrease or eradicate the acquire on paper. “When property is transferred between spouses at loss of life, there’s a tax incentive to aggressively worth it on the excessive finish,” stated Gregg Polsky, a tax legislation professor on the College of Georgia College of Legislation, who has been retained as a guide to ProPublica.

Taylor’s tax data recommend that’s what occurred. Taylor didn’t report a acquire on the sale of her firm. In truth, she was capable of report a lack of $211 million.

It’s troublesome for outsiders to worth a personal firm. However a former firm insider stated Taylor Power was bought at a premium. “I did the valuation. I do know what the property had been price and know what we bought them for. We didn’t take a loss. Interval,” John Pope, Taylor Power’s former CEO, advised ProPublica.

The upshot of the claimed loss was that Taylor paid no federal earnings tax in a yr when she realized an infinite acquire from the sale. She even received a outstanding further goodie: refunds on $30 million in taxes she’d paid in earlier years.

After the 2008 sale, what was left of Taylor Power was devoted to 1 factor solely, cleansing up the spill. The corporate had professed to be making an attempt to plug the leaking oil properly however appeared to make no progress.

Just a few months after the sale, the federal company that oversees drilling within the Gulf negotiated an settlement that required the corporate to create a $666 million trust to cowl the price of the cleanup.

That was some huge cash — greater than half of the proceeds from the corporate’s sale — but it surely got here with a silver lining. As a result of Taylor Power was arrange as a sole proprietorship, its earnings and losses flowed by means of to Phyllis’ private taxes. She may write off the prices of the cleanup in opposition to her personal earnings.

It might be shocking that the prices of cleansing up an environmental catastrophe are tax-deductible. However such write-offs are authorized, qualifying as “unusual and needed” enterprise bills. In contrast, fines and penalties are usually not deductible. Oil large BP was capable of deduct most of the settlement it reached with the federal government over the Deepwater Horizon spill as a result of a lot of it went to handle the environmental calamity, moderately than to penalties for wrongdoing.

Such deductions are unobtainable for executives or shareholders at publicly traded companies, the place solely the corporate will get to deduct the bills.

It took years for the extent of the spill to change into recognized. Taylor disclosed nearly nothing in regards to the accident and fought public data requests. The truth unspooled due to the persistence of environmental teams, investigativereporting, and revelations from a dizzying array of fits and countersuits.

Within the years after it established the cleanup belief, Taylor Power claimed that it couldn’t have foreseen such an accident and that stopping the leak was technologically not possible. In 2012, the Coast Guard lastly ordered Taylor to put in a dome to include the leak, however three years later, when Taylor Power settled a lawsuit that pressured it to start out publicly disclosing extra about its efforts, the corporate had not even completed the design.

In keeping with a later review by the Coast Guard, Taylor Power was “obstinate, troublesome to take care of and verbally combative,” and most well-liked “to make use of stall techniques over cooperation with an intention to confuse, delay or misdirect” the federal government.

In 2015, The Related Press revealed that each Taylor and the federal government had dramatically underestimated the amount of the leak. The Coast Guard launched a brand new estimate, a lot greater than its earlier ones and 20 instances the roughly 4 gallons a day Taylor was claiming. In a lawsuit, a federal skilled put it greater nonetheless, estimating the spill to be as much as 29,400 gallons a day. That might imply that beginning in 2004, extra oil spilled into the Gulf from Taylor Power’s rig than the estimated 130 million gallons that gushed into it on account of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

For greater than a decade, Taylor Power has launched a collection of authorized actions in opposition to the federal government to attempt to recoup a minimum of a portion of the cash within the belief or to finish its cleanup obligations, saying it has achieved all that it may. The corporate has come up empty each time. Quite than put sources into fixing the issue, Taylor has been “placing all of its cash and efforts into combating the cleanup,” stated Brettny Hardy, a senior legal professional for Earthjustice, an environmental group.

In the present day the oil remains to be flowing at a fee of about 1,000 gallons a day. A protecting dome, lastly put in by a contractor the Coast Guard employed after dropping religion in Taylor, incorporates the leak.

Taylor has weathered all of this remarkably properly. She stays often called an incredible benefactor to her metropolis and state. Praising her philanthropy, the U.S. Marine Corps gave her honorary marine standing in 2013, and The Occasions-Picayune granted her its “Loving Cup” award in 2016.

The mix of the loss on the sale of the corporate and the bills from the cleanup meant Taylor didn’t pay any earnings taxes from 2005 by means of 2018. On the finish of 2018, her reserve pool of losses exceeded $330 million, making it a definite risk that she would by no means need to pay earnings taxes once more.