San Diego Wealthy car dealer Steve Cushman has been in the news about his port commission appointment battle with Laurie Black, daughter-in-law of the late del Coronado hotel mogul and U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, M. Larry Lawrence, whose disinterment from Arlington National Cemetery prompted by discovery of his phony war record turned out to be one of Bill Clinton's smaller scandals. At the same time, a Coronado couple once employed aboard his company's lavish yacht has been celebrating a victory over the Internal Revenue Service. In a decision entered February 22, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that the IRS had erred when it levied a $6869 penalty against Myron and Thelma Struck for allegedly underpaying a total of $34,345 in taxes on their combined income of $82,768 in 2001 and $71,063 in 2002. "For approximately 27 years, from 1975 through early May 2002, Myron was employed full time as a yacht captain for owners of private yachts," according to the ruling. "Thelma also was employed on the yachts as a chef and stewardess.
"Beginning in 1991 through May of 2002, Myron and Thelma were employed on a yacht that was owned by Cush Automotive, a California company, and that was operated primarily in foreign territorial waters. Each year, Cush Automotive paid Myron and Thelma a salary, their living expenses while on the yacht, and their vacation travel expenses back to the United States. When underway, every 4 hours Myron would note in a log the yacht's longitude and latitude coordinates. Except for approximately 2 weeks when on vacation in the United States, and even when docked in foreign ports, Myron and Thelma lived on the yacht."
The court noted that "a review of the log coordinates...performed by personnel of the U.S. Navy" was used to develop charts mapping out how many days the couple was in foreign waters and how many days they spent in U.S. territory, which in turn was used to help determine whether their claim of a "foreign earned income exclusion" from taxes was valid. The data traced their whereabouts until they gave up working for Cush.
"On December 20, 2001, Myron and Thelma left the yacht in Costa Rica and flew to the United States for their annual 2-week vacation," the court said. "On January 4, 2002, Myron and Thelma returned to the yacht in Costa Rica. On May 6, 2002, Myron and Thelma docked the yacht in the harbor in San Diego, California, and retired from working on yachts."
The IRS claimed that the Strucks couldn't prove they had been out of the country for the requisite 330 days a year (330 days in any consecutive 12-month period) and even questioned whether the period they spent in the air flying back and forth to Costa Rica could be counted as time out of the country, but the court held otherwise. "We find Myron's testimony to be credible. Furthermore, Myron's testimony was corroborated. The yacht was docked in Costa Rica for the entire month of December 2001, and Myron's testimony regarding petitioners' travel to the United States in December 2001 was consistent with Myron's testimony that his vacation each year in the United States lasted only 2 weeks." Reached by phone this week, Thelma Struck said the fight with the IRS had been so stressful it gave her husband shingles; she added that Cushman was fully supportive and helped them retrieve crucial log records from the yacht.