Nov. 3: Tax-protesting CEO's fugitive life is over

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2007 - 7:59 AM

In Florida, federal authorities found Comtrol founder Robert Beale, a Minnesota tax resister who skipped bail during his trial in 2006.

Tax protester Robert Beale's 14 months on the lam from federal authorities ended Thursday in the parking lot of an Office Depot in Orlando, Fla.

Beale, a former technology company head, had engaged in running battles with the IRS and the Minnesota Revenue Department, citing God, the U.S. Constitution and tyrannical political societies for his refusal to pay taxes. He became Minnesota's most famous tax resister when he skipped bail on the eve of his tax evasion trial in August 2006.

Until this week, Beale was able to keep ahead of the federal authorities searching for him, although he had a close call shortly after he went into hiding when he dashed from a mobile home in rural western Wisconsin just hours before agents descended on the location.

Beale, 64, accused of failing to pay taxes on more than $5.6 million in personal income, remained in custody Friday in Florida. He is awaiting hearings on bail and his removal to Minnesota.

While Beale was gone, prosecutors added another charge against him -- failure to appear.

Beale was arrested without incident Thursday by members of the fugitive task force of the U.S. Marshals Service in Florida.

Acting on intelligence developed by U.S. marshals in Minnesota, deputies staked out an Orlando residence. On Thursday morning they watched Beale as he left the house, got in a car and drove to an Office Depot, where deputies arrested him.

Beale was carrying identification cards and a fake passport in the name of Robert Johnson, said Deputy U.S. Marshal John Murphy. He would not say how long Beale may have been at that Orlando residence or whether Beale owned the property.

Beale was founder and chief executive of Comtrol Corp. of Maple Grove, a successful computer parts company that now has a new owner. The company employs 60 workers and has annual revenue of $20 million to $25 million.

In 2000, while at Comtrol, Beale changed his employment status from "employee" to "consultant" and billed the company under the name of a shell corporation, the government contends. The shell was a "pass-through" device that allowed Beale to collect his salary through 2004 without reporting it to the IRS, according to prosecutors.

Earlier this year, Comtrol's president and chief operating officer, Lee Stagni, was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison for tax evasion and for aiding and abetting Beale.

An engineer and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beale faces a maximum of five years in prison for one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of tax evasion and one count of failure to appear for his trial in federal court.

Dan Scott, Beale's attorney at the time of the 2006 trial and a former federal public defender, said it will take about three to six weeks to transfer Beale back to Minnesota because of limits to the government's transportation system for prisoners.

Scott has represented clients who have jumped bail before, but said few defendants go that far.

"Forty-nine out of 50 will show up," Scott said.

Scott said he realized Beale would not show for his trial about half an hour before the case was to begin when Beale's family was in the courtroom but Beale was not.

"That was quite a surprise," Scott said. "Here was a businessman who owned a very successful company."

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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Robert Beale