Contender in Houston state House special election owed thousands in delinquent taxes

Texas Tribune News

Michele Leal is a Democratic candidate for state representative in HD-148, a Houston-area district formerly held by retired Rep. Jessica Farrar.
Michele Leal is a Democratic candidate for state representative in HD-148, a Houston-area district formerly held by retired Rep. Jessica Farrar.
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A leading contender in a Houston state House special election told The Texas Tribune this week she and her husband recently paid the federal government more than $25,000 in delinquent taxes.

Michele Leal, one of a dozen Democrats in the Nov. 5 special election and the top fundraiser, and her husband had been slapped with a lien from the Internal Revenue Service alleging she owed the government $26,853.25 for unpaid taxes, according to documents from the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

Leal, a consultant with a firm that focuses on providing LGBTQ diversity and inclusion training, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon she has since paid her taxes after being alerted of the lien by a letter last week. She said the bill came because “of the firm and type of law practice” her husband has, which causes their annual income to fluctuate. It also causes the amount of taxes they owe to the federal government to change on a case-by-case basis.

“There are years where we withhold enough and we don’t owe, and there are years where we sometimes owe a substantial amount of money,” she said.

In the case of the most recent bill, she said she and her husband had a payment agreement in place and made an adjustment to that agreement. Due to what she describes as an IRS oversight, the agreement was terminated without her or her husband’s knowledge.

They were made aware of the lien last week, she said, and “immediately took steps to remedy it.”

“It is now completely resolved and paid in full,” she said, noting that this is the first time she’s received a tax lien. “This happened do to a communication error. This is an extenuating circumstance due to us not receiving the mail.”

Although Leal emailed the Tribune copies of her receipt of payment, she was not immediately able to produce the release of lien — which proves she reimbursed the government. That document will take roughly 30 days to come through, she said.

Leal is running to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat who served for over two decades and retired from the lower chamber at the end of September. A special election to fill the seat, which is in a district that has been historically safe for Democrats, will take place Nov. 5. Fifteen candidates — 12 Democrats, two Republicans and an independent — are vying for the seat. According to the latest campaign finance reports, Leal was the No. 1 fundraiser, earning $109,000 while keeping spending low — only $9,000. She has $62,000 in reserves. The No. 2 fundraiser was Anna Eastman, who raised less than half of Leal’s six-figure haul.

If elected, Leal wouldn’t the first representative to be hit with a big bill from the federal government. Last year, the IRS filed a federal tax lien against state Rep. Roland Guttierez, D-San Antonio, and his wife, Sarah, totaling $60,284, for unpaid taxes dating back to 2015.

“Everyone should be responsible for paying their taxes which is why as soon as we became aware of the situation we immediately took steps to remedy it and made payment,” Leal said.