On August 8, 2016, Tennessee State Rep. Joseph Armstrong (D-Tenn.) was convicted by a federal district court jury of filing a false federal income tax return, and acquitted of tax evasion and conspiracy. Armstrong’s conviction arose from an ingenious but morally dubious scheme to profit personally from a tax increase that he helped push through the legislature. Armstrong supported and voted in favor of a cigarette tax increase from 20 cents to 62 cents per pack. Cigarette wholesalers place tax stamps on packs to show that the taxes have been paid. Knowing that the stamps would increase in value from 20 cents to 62 cents, Armstrong got together with a wholesaler, hoarded the stamps, and resold them after the tax increase took effect for a 300 percent profit, or roughly $321,000. The jury convicted Armstrong of willfully filing a false tax return by failing to report this income.
The lesson from this scandal, unsurprisingly, is that the cover up is often worse than the crime. Armstrong’s tax stamp scheme was not illegal; it was only distasteful in the extreme. His attempt to cover it up by failing to report the income on his tax return, though, was a felony. He now faces a maximum of three years in prison and is being ejected from the Tennessee Legislature.