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Exclusive: State Lawmaker and His Speedboat Slip the Taxman

By   /   October 25, 2009  /   17 Comments

A Nebraska State Senator and his high powered boat are linked to unpaid taxes, possibly amounting to several thousand dollars.

1996 baja 272 1

A two month investigation by Nebraska Watchdog has uncovered that Nebraska State Senator Kent Rogert of Tekamah has never paid the sales tax on his 1996 Baja 272.

State Senator Kent Rogert

Rogert’s 28 foot long, 310 horsepower speedboat was first registered with the Douglas County Treasurer’s office on December 5, 2002. Rogert also registered the boat in Douglas County in 2005. In 2006 and in January of 2009 Rogert registered the boat in Burt County. According to Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, two sources, and state records examined by Nebraska Watchdog, Rogert paid registration fees each time, but there are no records that he ever paid the sales tax. 

According to our investigation Rogert, who was elected in 2006, did not pay the sales tax because when he first registered the boat Rogert was given a dealer’s registration number: 019 AMT. Paying the sales tax on boats is not required if the owner is a boat dealer. But on Rogert’s Statement of Financial Interests, a document that many state employees including senators must file with the State of Nebraska, there is nothing to indicate that Rogert sells boats. And in a telephone interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Rogert said he is, “… a real estate agent, not a boat dealer.”

Interior of 1996 Baja 272

Interior of 1996 Baja 272

Asked by Nebraska Watchdog why he was given a dealer’s boat registration number (019 AMT) Rogert said he was dabbling in the boat business several years ago. According to Rogert he received what he called a “piece of paper” to sell boats from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Lincoln. Betty Johnson, the DMV’s Administrator of Driver and Vehicle Records, tells Nebraska Watchdog that there is no such paperwork; unlike car dealers who are licensed to sell cars, boat dealers are not licensed by the State of Nebraska.

According to state and county officials the sales tax on a boat is paid the first time the boat is registered at the county treasurer’s office. But Ewing says boat dealers, unlike car dealers, do not have to provide any proof that they are legitimate dealers. Ewing says when someone registers a boat and says they are a dealer they are, “taken at their word.”

Paul Davis, the owner and general manager of Omaha Marine Center, says very few people know they can just walk in to the treasurer’s office, claim to be a dealer and walk out without paying the sales tax. Davis says attempts to tighten the law have never been successful. In March of 2007 Rogert told the Lincoln Journal Star that he is a “river rat” who grew up on the Missouri River. Rogert also told the newspaper his boat is “loud…it holds a lot of people and creates a lot of fun.”

Nebraska Watchdog has tried to contact Rogert with a series of additional questions but Rogert has not responded. He has refused to show Nebraska Watchdog a copy of the “piece of paper” he received from the State and refused to say how much he paid for the boat.

Boat dealers tell Nebraska Watchdog that Rogert’s boat would have cost about $40,000 in 2002, leaving Rogert a sales tax bill of at least $3,000. When Nebraska Watchdog initially contacted Rogert and asked if he paid the sales tax Rogert said, “I don’t remember.”

Reported by Joe Jordan joe@nebraskawatchdog.org

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  • http://popomark@cox.net D. Mark

    Do you wonder if the Attorney General will go after a State Senator like he went after the Adams County treasurer who schemed to avoid paying sales taxes on a motor home. The Attorney General also went after her when she purchased a Cadillac Escalade and inflated the trade-in value they received on another vechicle, nearly halving the taxes owed. Do you wonder if everyone will be treated equally.

  • One Out In The Third

    As some say in the nautical world…or in this case “naughtycal” world…”Great Catch!”

    I wondered immediately about the same thing reflected in D. Mark’s comments. This makes me look forward to my next boat purchase now that I know there is a loop hole. Forget Bruning because he has to act…I wonder how long it will take our State Legislature to get out the duct tape and repair this “hole” in the tax/licensing issue….not that Nebraska doesn’t already lead the region in licenses and fees for licenses.

    This puts a whole new twist to the old adage that “the two happiest days in a man’s life are when he buys a boat…and when he sells it.” Now you can add “the day he dodges the sales tax at the court house.”

    Shame….Shame Senator Rogert…maybe as penance you can introduce the bill that corrects this impropriety. Then again it’s probably just a simple misunderstanding.

  • not surprised

    Great work at catching this tax dodger!!!! Doesn’t the state revenue dept look into these things? If he is dodging this tax, it makes me wonder what other loopholes our senators are using!

  • ITOT

    Excellent point D. Mark. Nothing against this source at all, but I sure hope the “mainstream” media pick up on this story. LJS or OWH, where are you?

  • Steve

    Nice work, Watchdog! I immediately had the same thought as D. Mark, about former Adams County Treasurer Julia Moeller. Bruning prosecuted her and her daughter. Looks like he’ll have to do the same here, or will he?

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  • Edward

    Nice Work Watchdog????? You’re breaking a story about a transaction that is perfectly legal and has been taking place in the State of Nebraska for decades. I hate to burst your bubble, but all you would have had to do is ask anyone with a boat and they would have known about the dealer license exemption. Great job breaking a story about a legislator following the letter of the law!!

  • Steve

    OK, so maybe it was legal. But was it ethical?

  • Big D

    Steve — Why aren’t you questioning the ethicality of taxes in the first place? Have you ever filed an itemized tax return? If so, you are avoiding taxes that you would have paid otherwise if you had just taken the standard deduction. Is that ethical? I agree with Edward, this story is a non-story.

    And, btw, if he paid $40k for that boat in 2002, it better have come with exotic dancers.

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  • Dave T

    This whole tax loophole thing…………is perfectly legal. How many of you itemize deductions? LIke Big D said…….. it’s the same thing.

    You can be a boat dealer and not sell any boats………..not illegal according to the NE State law. Ethical? maybe not……but neither are the taxes.

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