By Mark J. Fitzgibbons
Feisty farmer Martha Boneta gained national attention after being cited by Virginia’s Fauquier County for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without a permit and a site plan for events at her farm.
Despite the national attention over this outrageous government abuse in which she still faces potential fines of $5,000 per violation per day, Mrs. Boneta initially shied away from the media spotlight.
She was finally coaxed by her supporters to appear on “Fox & Friends” to discuss the Boneta Bill, which had been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly in January to provide remedies for farmers when local government officials abuse their authority.
It seems that she’s got a lot more of her story to tell.
More recently, investigative journalist Kevin Mooney of Watchdog.com broke the story that Mrs. Boneta was audited last year by the IRS.
The audit curiously followed disputes with Fauquier County and the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), a nonprofit organization that has come to be known for its anti-property-rights agenda.
Martha bought her farm subject to a conservation easement held by the PEC. The tea-party farmer raises organic vegetables and herbs and has over 160 rescued farm animals.
The PEC does on-sight inspections four times per year, even peering into closets in her barn at Liberty Farm.
Mooney questioned one of the board members of the PEC, Margaret “Peggy” Richardson, about the audit. Mrs. Richardson may be best-known to conservatives as Bill Clinton’s IRS commissioner and close friend of Hillary.
During Richardson’s reign at the IRS, dozens of conservative organizations such as Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association and WND’s then-parent entity, the Western Journalism Center, were audited.
In response to the questionable timing of the audit coming on the heels of Mrs. Boneta’s legal disputes with the PEC and Fauquier County, “Richardson dismissed the idea that Boneta’s audit is the result of a coordinated effort,” reports Watchdog.com, “but said she understands why Boneta and her supporters see a connection.”
“Coincidences do happen,” Richardson told Watchdog.com.
The facts, however, indicate that the audit of Martha Boneta is no mere coincidence.
Boneta says that certain questions asked by the IRS auditor were eerily close to issues in her disputes with the PEC and Fauquier County.
For instance, the IRS asked about whether she was providing a boarding facility at her farm.
Each year, college students on spring break go to Martha’s farm to learn about organic farming. Martha and many of the students would also pray over the animals.
Both the PEC and Fauquier County alleged that these students constituted boarders in violation of the easement and county ordinances. The allegations were frivolous, but provided fodder for the PEC and the county to harass Boneta.
Last year, Fauquier County went so far as to send a zoning official to the farm during a week when the college students were there.
The county official appeared at the farm without a warrant, but he was accompanied by one armed deputy. Two more deputies soon arrived.
This scared and intimidated the college students. The heavy-handed harassment worked.
Mrs. Boneta tells me that she never claimed deductions or had any tax indicia for a boarding facility. The IRS auditor’s questions seemed to come out of the blue but for her disputes with the PEC and the county.
This seems to point to collusion between the PEC, the county and the IRS, rather than “coincidence” as claimed by Peggy Richardson.
But the story gets even less coincidental.
The notice of audit was issued on July 19 last year. Investigating the county’s harassment of Martha Boneta, I met with a Fauquier official on Saturday, July 21, nearly a week before Boneta knew of the audit.
The county official is formerly a board member of the PEC and lives next door to Peggy Richardson. Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show he directed county actions against the farmer.
In his attempt to convince me that the county was acting justifiably against Martha, the official told me that her taxes were being audited.
An IRS disclosure of an audit would automatically constitute a civil violation, and if done willfully, a felony. The county official provided probable cause that someone had leaked the audit to him.
Other emails obtained under FOIA show that county officials were collaborating with the PEC in opposition to the Boneta Bill and with a variety of people in the county to keep tabs on Martha.
After Martha hosted a viewing of a film on private property rights in November, this same county official received an email saying, “I thought that it was your turn to keep an eye on the nuts.”
Coincidences? It’s time for subpoenas to start flying.
Mark J. Fitzgibbons is co-author of “The Law That Governs Government.”