Posted on 26 August 2010.
By Jack Johnson, Boulder City Review
City Manager Vicki Mayes’ husband registered his 2010 Nissan GT-R Premium sports car in Nevada Aug. 19, but a special city council meeting will be held to address the possible legal and ethical violations associated with the vehicle’s former out-of-state registration.
The Mayeses received criticism after Vicki Mayes drove Denny Mayes’ new car to work at City Hall a few times, because it had Montana license plates, and the Mayeses live in Boulder City and do not own property in Montana.
By registering the new vehicle earlier this year to the Montana-based limited liability company, Amayesd, Denny Mayes said he saved about $4,200 in Nevada sales tax. Montana has no state sales tax.
He also did not pay about $1,400 in Nevada Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees, he said.
Mayes’ revelations came during an interview with the Boulder City Review on Friday.
The majority of the Nevada’s sales tax and registration fee goes toward things like schools and roads.
Many people from all over the country establish companies in sales tax-free states like Montana and Oregon so they can save thousands of dollars when they register new vehicles, mostly expensive RVs.
The Nissan’s retail price tag tops $80,000 but the Mayeses said they traded in a Porsche Vicki used to drive.
“It’s an ongoing problem” in Nevada, according to Paulina Oliver, a tax manager with the Nevada Department of Taxation.
Though the practice is legal in Montana, according to the Department of Taxation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, in Nevada, it is not.
“For a private person, if you live here and you work here you have to register your car here,” DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said. “And if you form a company in another state that’s no excuse.”
Though the Department of Taxation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Las Vegas Township Constable’s office — who recently launched the Fair Share registration enforcement program — said it is illegal to register one’s car out of state if the person does not live there, the Mayeses maintain that the vehicle’s registration was legal in Nevada.
“I legally registered my car out of state … just like thousands of Nevadans do every day,” Denny Mayes said.
The Mayeses said upon setting up the company with the Montana law firm, Bennett Law Office, they were told the registration was legal in Nevada. They also said they consulted a local attorney last week who told them they did not break any Nevada laws.
City Attorney Dave Olsen also told the Boulder City Review he thought it was legal, and Vicki Mayes said numerous attorneys have told her informally the out-of-state registration was legal.
According to Vicki Mayes, the agencies who said her husband’s act is illegal don’t know what they are talking about.
“They’re telling you general guidelines,” she told the Boulder City Review. “Two attorneys told us it was legal.”
But upon repeated questioning, the Mayeses would not reveal who the Nevada attorney they recently consulted was, so the attorney could be asked exactly how the registration was legal. And while Bennett Law Office did not return phone calls, its website claims “virtually every state” has statutes that can make the Montana registration legal.
Boulder City Police Chief Thomas Finn said he knows who the local mystery lawyer the Mayeses consulted is, and said the lawyer is someone who is respected in the community, and who would give the Mayeses’ an honest opinion.
Finn said Vicki Mayes told him about her husband’s registration a couple months ago, just in case her husband were to be stopped by an officer, but said her husband had the paperwork proving the car was legally registered to the limited-liability company.
“She felt, and I truly believe her, that it was legally registered under the LLC,” he said.
Finn said he wasn’t too familiar with how the out-of-state LLC registration worked, but believed Mayes that it was legal.
“I’m familiar that once you move here you have 60 days to register,” he said. “As far as the nuances with another state, and you have an LLC and it’s registered there, I wasn’t as familiar with those.”
He said he wasn’t even aware there might be a problem until an officer approached him after the Aug. 10 City Council meeting and told him it was illegal. He said this was the only contact he had with any officer about the issue and gave no directive.
But after looking into it a little further, Finn said he’s still not sure whether the registration was legal.
“On its face, it appears that it is illegal,” he said. However, “I wouldn’t say it’s a gray area, but there’s enough confusion.”
Finn said it would have been best to let the court decide, but it never came to that.
“If any of my officers felt it was a violation, it would have been well within their rights to pull them over, cite them, and let Judge (Victor) Miller figure it out,” he said. But, “If the vehicle’s been around town for several months and officers haven’t stopped her, then obviously they aren’t that concerned about it.”
According to the Mayeses, it is not a legal issue, it is an ethical issue. They agree, Vicki Mayes being a public official, it looked bad to register a car out of state and not pay taxes. But the Mayeses maintain the car was not registered out of state in an effort to dodge Nevada sales tax.
Denny Mayes said he set up the limited-liability company after he took a trip Montana and decided it would be a nice place to start a business, possibly after his wife retires in a couple years. But what this business might be, neither of them could say.
This idea for a business, Denny Mayes said, came around the same time he got the itch for a new car. He said he was told by someone — he couldn’t say who — that it might help the company to own an asset.
“It just coincided into the same time as getting a car,” he said. “And they said that is a good investment into your LLC.”
The Mayeses said they did not know that Bennett Law Office is one of Montana’s more popular registration service law offices, and has helped thousands of people from all over the country avoid paying their home state’s sales tax.
Denny Mayes said he simply found out about Bennett Law Office by word of mouth when he was in Montana, though he couldn’t say from whom.
The Mayeses said they weren’t even familiar with the practice of folks going to Montana to evade sales tax.
Vicki Mayes said she told her husband it wasn’t a good idea when he was thinking about doing it, because it might look bad, and he said he didn’t listen to her.
“To tell you the truth, I’m old enough to should have known, and I should have listened,” he said. “I did a dumb ass thing and now my wife’s paying for it.”
With the vehicle now registered in Nevada, there won’t be any citations issued. And the Mayeses are no longer risking fines by the Department of Taxation, if it were in fact determined to be illegal. But there are still some questions that need answering, members of the city council say.
Councilwoman Linda Strickland said she sent a letter to Vicki Mayes with some questions — asking where the vehicle was purchased, who was on the title, when it entered the state, who the officers and directors of the company were, etc. — which she asked to be answered in writing. Mayes did not answer.
“I haven’t gotten the cooperation that I’ve been hoping to get,” Strickland said.
The Mayeses told the Boulder City Review that Amayesd owns the vehicle, it was purchased in February and only Denny Mayes is named on the limited liability company.
However, upon repeated questioning, Denny Mayes would not say in which state the vehicle was purchased, only saying it was purchased out of state. And at one point last week, Vicki Mayes claimed she didn’t even know in which state the vehicle was purchased.
“I would think that it would be important to be just as up front and open about it,” Strickland said. “People make mistakes, but (withholding information) seems to compound it.”
Strickland said she requested for a discussion of the registration to be placed on a future City Council agenda. But that likely won’t happen, because Mayor Roger Tobler plans to have a special City Council meeting to discuss it instead.
This meeting, he said, will likely take place in a couple weeks, before the next Sept. 14 council meeting.
“(Strickland) asked for it to be placed on the agenda item,” he said. “I would rather have it taken care of sooner.”
While Tobler also said he doesn’t know all the details, and doesn’t know what will happen at the special meeting, he is concerned because the community is concerned, not because he believes Vicki Mayes’ character is flawed.
“Her husband made a bad judgment call and he’s taken care of it,” Tobler said. “Personally, I don’t think it has eroded my confidence in Vicki … the most important thing is we know it’s not going to happen again.”
Council members Cam Walker and Travis Chandler also said the out-of-state registration doesn’t look good for Vicki Mayes, but they need more information before they can render a solid opinion.
Councilman Duncan McCoy said the attorneys can argue about the legality of the registration. He doesn’t know the answer. But there is one thing he does know.
“You can hope and wish for perfect performance on the part of the people you work with and the people who work for you, but what you get is a human being and human beings make mistakes,” he said.
Mayes said that even though she hopes to resolve the matter, she realizes it will be difficult resolve any damage to her public image.
“I understand as a public official that any action of mine or my family is scrutinized by the public for adherence to the highest ethical standards,” she said in an Aug. 19 release. “I also understand that appearance of impropriety can be as detrimental to the public trust as impropriety itself.”