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    Posted February 3, 2010

A Remembrance of Conard Fowkes or How I Survived Two Simultaneous IRS Audits

By Francis Jue, AEA Councillor

I first went to VITA at Equity in 1985, because a fellow cast member from the Off-Broadway revival of PACIFIC OVERTURES happened to be one of the volunteers. I remember meeting Conard Fowkes then, exclaiming when he found out that I had taken time off from Yale to do the show, "Go back to school! Get your degree! At least they taught you enough to come here to get your taxes done!"

I had no idea then what kind of legacy Conard was creating at Equity. But I have since learned from personal experience how his advocacy has benefited professional actors and stage managers.

I did go back to school, graduating from Yale, which I later learned was also one of Conard's alma maters. A few years later, when I returned to NYC to pursue an acting career, VITA became an annual pilgrimage.

I was first elected to Equity Council in 2003. I greatly admired Conard's stewardship as Equity's Financial Officer, and loved his editorial comments when I sat beside him in the back of the Council room. We traded war stories about our times at Yale and in the biz.

Last year, I received 2 separate IRS notifications within weeks of each other, letting me know that they were auditing my 2006 and 2007 federal returns. They sent identical forms, challenging all my itemized business deductions.

Naturally, I freaked out! I immediately contacted Conard at the VITA Office, and he calmly advised me on how to respond, what information I needed to provide, how to justify categories of business expenses related to show business. After all, he was instrumental in formulating with the IRS the Performing Artist designation, along with expenses deemed customary and necessary to the profession.

With Conard's help, I sent in my responses to each audit, including itineraries, lists of employers, copies of receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, even my VITA worksheets. Within a few weeks, my 2006 audit results came back from the IRS office in Huntsville, NY, saying they were going to make NO adjustments to my 2006 return. Success!

I was not so lucky when it came to my 2007 return. This auditor hailed from an office in Ogden, UT, and they responded to my documents by denying all my business expenses, assessing me over $1,100. Why would the exact same kind of paperwork clear me one year and not the next?? I panicked, and asked Conard if I should just pay it to get the IRS off my back.

He responded with a stern, "No!" and proceeded to assist me with my next response. By this time, Conard was very ill, and yet he insisted on personally going over my audit. He asked Sandra Karas, Equity's new Financial Officer, to assist me as well, and she gladly took up my case, personally contacting the Taxpayer Advocate's Office in Washington, DC.

Conard signed a letter, fashioned by Sandra, outlining all the business expenses that the IRS has customarily acknowledged as ordinary and necessary for actors and stage managers. He helped me edit my cover letter and additional supporting documents in response to the 2007 assessment. And Sandra persuaded the DC Taxpayer Advocate to monitor my audit, perhaps to use my case to educate the IRS on Performing Artists and their returns.

Over the next few months, I had more anxiety attacks, even cutting back on my holiday spending, just in case I had to make a big payout to the IRS. But Conard and Sandra remained stalwart through it all. Conard passed before my final results, but his final e-mail to me was full of optimism and characteristic camaraderie.

Over 6 months after the initiation of my 2007 audit, the IRS cleared me, making NO adjustments to my 2007 return. The auditor even told Sandra over the phone, "If everyone kept records like Mr. Jue, we'd be out of work!"

I learned how to keep tax records from Conard Fowkes and the other amazing Equity volunteers at VITA. Without Conard and Sandra's help, I might have folded out of frustration, and been thwarted from claiming legitimate business expenses on future returns. If you are being audited, I enthusiastically urge you to contact Sandra and the great folks at VITA.

God bless you, Conard, for being such a Bulldog.


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