Willie Nelson Has the Taxman on His Tail for More Than $2 Million the Irs Says He Owes Uncle Sam

updated 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Internal Revenue Service has just mailed out millions of tax forms, but the revenuers are already after country music outlaw Willie Nelson, claiming his tax returns are a lot of moonshine. According to the IRS, Nelson, 52, failed to report income from concerts, royalties, music publishing and gewgaws sold by his fan club, claimed a bunch of invalid deductions and filed late returns for 1975, 1976 and 1977 "fraudulently with intent to evade tax." The Feds claim Willie planted enough tax violations to cover the north 40. All told, the IRS says Willie and wife Connie owe $2,268,619 in back taxes and penalties for 1975-1978. In addition, they've slapped his Willie Nelson Music Company with a similar bill for more than $400,000.

Nelson's not commenting and his Dallas attorney William R. Cousins says the IRS suit is "absolutely" groundless, but the star is clearly embarrassed by the proceedings. Cousins and Nelson's other lawyer, C.M. Meadows Jr., tried to persuade U.S. Tax Court Special Trial Judge Francis J. Cantrel to seal all records in the case, arguing that publicity would create the false impression that Willie is being charged with a criminal offense. The judge ruled that the public's right to know outweighed Willie and Connie's right to privacy. A trial date has not yet been set.

The singer's lawyers admit he has had a little trouble with money (in court they claimed that one of Willie's former managers embezzled $325,000), but Cousins insists the IRS allegations are "spurious." Stephen M. Miller, special litigation counsel for the IRS chief counsel's office in Washington, D.C., doesn't think the charge that Willie fiddled his taxes will hurt the self-styled outlaw singer's image. "Considering the tax mentality in the country at this time," he told the court, "his tax problems may even increase his popularity."

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