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Probe: February 12, 2001

February 12, 2002

QUESTION: Several candidates seeking office in the upcoming election are businessmen. Can these candidates charge their campaign expenses to their businesses as adverting expense? It doesn't seem fair to working men running for office.

If it isn't legal, what are the reporting requirements for expenses — and who checks up on them? — Merchant, Calexico

A businessman/politician running for office could hide some of his campaign expenses in his company books. We all know merchants who run all kinds of personal expenses through the business. But it would be wrong — and illegal.

You know it's not legal. Many people do it and we suspect the culprits seldom get caught. But there have been spectacular busts.

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Coming quickly to mind is Leona Helmsley, the so-called "queen of mean." Helmsley spent four years in prison for running thousands of dollars worth of home improvements and furniture through she and her husband's hotel and charging them as business expenses.

The California Department of State keeps track of campaign spending. We don't know how carefully the expenses are monitored.

If you report the expenses as a business expense, it would be up to the Internal Revenue Service to catch the misreported expenses. If your plot was to defraud the government of taxes, that would be a criminal act.

NOT A NEW CASE — I checked into the case of the family waiting to have her welfare case "worked." This is not a new case. She has been enrolled for months. Can you get us a better identification like a case or Social Security number to make sure we're looking at the right case family? — Program Supervisor, El Centro

If the woman who injured her elbow when both she and an elderly patient fell will get in touch with us, maybe we can work this out.

In the meantime, the woman said she needs more money because her budget was figured while she was working for the county as an in-home service aid. Without her small salary the family cannot live on the $540 monthly grant, she said.

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT CALLS — I was fast asleep when I was awakened by that insomniac fax machine at 1:06 a.m. A middle of the night call is always a worry. I have a brother in Florida who is in poor health.

No real harm was done because after I hung up, I went right back to sleep. I couldn't find the 334 prefix so I called Pacific Bell and the operator told me 334 is in Encinitas. — Like a Log, Niland

Not everybody is as easygoing as you are.

BEEP, BEEP, SQUEAL — That rogue fax machine called me twice, once at 2:15 a.m. and once at 2:23 a.m. When you answer the phone, it first goes beep, beep, beep, then squeals like a banshee.

I live behind the Fountain of Youth Spa about 15 miles north of Niland. A neighbor in the spa said she's been getting calls at 10 p.m. that sound like a fax machine.

I had the phone company put a tracer on my phone. I haven't had a call since. — Trap-setter, North County

Devilishly clever, those machines. We don't know what's going on but a computer could be behind this fiendish plot. The fax may be set on automatic dialing to ring other fax machines during the night when phone traffic is light.

A glitch in the programming could have the fax dialing hundreds of wrong numbers, waking up people all over Southern California.

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