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Kevin Cullen

Let no tax go unextracted

Fran Dalton, 80 years old and 'enemy of the state'. Fran Dalton, 80 years old and "enemy of the state". (Globe Staff Photo / Kevin Cullen)
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / March 26, 2009
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In these parlous times, it is extremely comforting to know that while some AIG executives are busy counting their bonuses and Jim Aloisi's sister is busy counting sheep, the super sleuths at our crack Department of Revenue have been able to track down a scurrilous deadbeat who goes by the name of Fran Dalton.

Fran Dalton, enemy of the state, is 80 years old, and if she makes 81, she'll be lucky. She is badly stooped and uses something she fashioned out of a tree branch as a cane. She used to weigh 160 pounds, but is now a wispy 115. She has a bad heart and every imaginable ailment known to octogenarians. Despite all this, or maybe because of all this, she insists on smoking.

"It is my one and only pleasure," she says. "I don't have much time left in this world."

But before she departs this world, the state agency is determined to make Fran Dalton cough up 91 bucks and change, the amount its bureaucrats say Fran Dalton cheated the state out of by buying cigarettes from a mail-order company.

Fran Dalton, a retired artist, survives on about $600 a month, checks from Social Security, and the Veterans Affairs Administration. She lives in a small, subsidized apartment in Newburyport. The next-to-last time she bought a carton of Lucky Strikes, it cost something like 60 bucks, and that was in New Hampshire.

"Every cigarette I have, it's a joy," she says. "It calms me. It soothes me. But I couldn't afford them."

Someone told her about a cigarette company run by Native Americans in New York that was selling by mail at discount prices. She got the telephone number and ordered five cartons of the cheapest ones they had: nonfilter Senecas, at $14.89 a carton.

"They're not bad," Fran Dalton said. "They taste a lot like Luckys."

The Seneca tribe that runs the company doesn't have to pay or collect taxes on products it sells. But its salespeople send information about their customers to various states, which is why Fran Dalton got a letter from the Department of Revenue the other day demanding $91.58. The notice said that if she doesn't pay up by April 6, the state will add interest and penalties.

Well, they can start calculating, because Fran Dalton won't be paying.

"I don't have much money, but it's really not about the money. It's about the principle," she said. "I had no idea I was being taxed. And . . . the tax amount is outrageous."

There is, in fact, some microscopic print on the bottom of Fran Dalton's invoice from the SmartSmoker company that says, "The purchaser is responsible for payment of any state, local, or excise tax." Fran Dalton said she never saw that disclaimer, and even if she had seen it she wouldn't have been able to read it. Her eyes, like everything else, aren't what they used to be.

Massachusetts is adamant about collecting these taxes, and you can see the point. After all, we need every penny we can get to give legislators the raises they orchestrated for themselves, not to mention the 14 grand we need each week to pay members of Sal DiMasi's old staff, who are busy these days doing their best impression of Carol Aloisi. Times are tough, the government tells us, and there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Yesterday, Fran Dalton was sitting in the Salvation Army building in Newburyport, having, well, a free lunch.

"The churches take turns on different days," she said. "Wednesdays, they serve lunch here."

So, if anybody from the state is looking to pinch the dangerous, seditious, and defiant Fran Dalton, she'll be easy pickings any Wednesday, around noon, at the corner of Water and Fair streets. You can't miss her. She's the one smoking Senecas.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com

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