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Roanoke candidate Hill breaks silence on financial struggles, cites health and medical bills
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Roanoke candidate Hill breaks silence on financial struggles, cites health and medical bills

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Roanoke attorney and candidate for commonwealth’s attorney Melvin Hill says that he has a 5-year-old case of recurring bladder cancer but continues to work and is confident the health condition would not interfere with being chief prosecutor, should he win the race.

He also said medical debt, not back taxes, drove him into bankruptcy last year, revealing new details of personal financial struggles that became a campaign issue.

Hill, during an interview with The Roanoke Times, confirmed that he did not pay taxes on time in multiple years and still owes the IRS, but denies being a “tax cheat.” Hill said the term appeared in commentary on media reports about his failure to pay federal income taxes in multiple years since 2010.

“If I’d have cheated, I wouldn’t owe anything. I told the federal government exactly how much money I made and at no point did I cheat or file on less than my income,” the 65-year-old Democrat said.

Hill said he operates his solo law firm as a sole proprietorship and files a return once a year.

Asked why he did not pay what he owed when due, he pointed to what he described as unexpected fluctuations in his income through the years. He talked about earning more than $200,000 from 2010 through 2012, and then making $100,000 less, or about $150,000, in three subsequent years.

“That’s significant drop in income, so, as a result, that caused the tax debt,” Hill said. “Not that I avoided taxes, in the sense that I did not set out to avoid paying taxes.”

Incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell, citing media reports, has criticized Hill for “an extensive history of poor financial management and judgment to include multiple bankruptcies and civil suits.” The 70-year-old independent is seeking his 11th term in office when city voters go to the polls Nov. 2.

In giving his account of his delinquent tax situation, Hill said: “My initial objective was at some point to try to pay it back.”

But the years of not paying added up, and IRS penalties and interest charges increased what he owed. In early 2020, Hill filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case — designed to liquidate any excess assets and pay creditors from available funds. Court papers show that after a finding that he had no assets to distribute, a judge cancelled Hill’s debts.

In confirmation of the discharge, the IRS later released tax liens totaling about $185,000, a figure Hill said “sounds about right.”

However, the bankruptcy court action covered only tax debt in his name more than three years old, leaving more recent taxes at least partially unpaid still.

“I still owe taxes,” Hill said.

To address the remaining tax debt, a figure for which he did not disclose, Hill said he retained a private tax consulting firm to talk to the IRS. Hill expects to enter into a payment plan or a negotiated settlement for an amount less than what he owes.

About 11 million people owed unpaid income tax to the federal government at the beginning of 2020, or about one in 23 U.S. adults, IRS data shows. While the IRS is known to work with individuals who do not pay the mandatory tax, the agency states in a publication that it “vigorously” seeks civil and criminal sanctions for those who willfully do not comply, including prison time. Tax evasion is a felony.

The IRS and the office of the U.S. attorney declined to comment on Hill’s tax delinquencies.

Speaking of the bankruptcy proceeding, Hill explained the chief purpose of filing was to recover $5,700 garnished by Carilion Clinic from his bank account to pay off a medical bill.

“When you file bankruptcy obviously you include other debts you have, not just the one that’s causing you the concern,” he said. In that regard, the petition listed the matter of the $5,700, less than $300 in other medical and tax debt of about $217,000.

“What really prompted the bankruptcy was the medical bills,” Hill said.

As a result of the bankruptcy court decision in his case, Carilion returned the $5,700; that bill, the few hundred dollars of other medical debt and the tax debt were extinguished, court papers said.

In tying the bankruptcy to medical bills, Hill revealed that doctors diagnosed him in 2016 with bladder cancer and, although tumors have recurred, the condition isn’t life-threatening at this time, he said. But treatment is expensive. Doctors will check him every three months until he is tumor-free for five years, he said. When scans detect new tumors they’re removed. He said he has undergone at least five operations for that purpose, the most recent time in early October.

He said he did not expect the cancer would limit his ability to serve as commonwealth’s attorney. “It hasn’t interfered with being in private practice,” he said, noting that he works 50 to 60 hours weekly.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers the city of Roanoke, including schools, banking and transportation. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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