By Associated Press - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Richmond Tea Party said an audit by the city is retaliation for the conservative group seeking refunds for rally permits and fees, arguing that Occupy Richmond activists have not been charged anything for the same activities.

The audit is outlined in a Nov. 14 letter by the city’s Department of Finance. It states the group has not paid admissions, lodging or meals taxes collected by the city, so is now being audited.

The tea party said Monday it has never charged an admission or offered meals or lodging associated with its rallies.

“Every month the forms are appropriately filled with zeros,” Tea Party spokeswoman Colleen Owens wrote in an email.

The group said the audit is punishment for its complaint that the city had charged it $8,500 for permits and other costs for rallies, while Occupy Richmond activists have not been assessed any costs related to their former occupation of a city-owned plaza.

The tea party sought a refund, unsuccessfully, from the city.

“This audit is an obvious attempt to intimidate and harass us for standing up against the unfair treatment and discrimination against our Tea Party,” Owens wrote in the email.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Dwight C. Jones said his office wasn’t aware of the audit and that the Richmond Tea Party is among 700 businesses that were not compliant with admissions, meals or lodging excise taxes, known collectively as ALM.

“The Richmond Tea Party did not file any of the required ALM monthly returns during 2010 and had only filed January and February 2011 when this account was selected for audit review,” Tammy D. Hawley wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Since then, it has filed returns for 2011 but not 2010, Hawley said.

Owens said the tea party treasurer had been told by a city official he would comply with the 2010 filings. The official said not to bother because the group would have no reports of tax activity sought by the city, she said.

“We’ll be glad to fill out the forms but all the forms will be zero,” Owens said in an interview. “We’ve never owed any taxes.”

The Richmond Tea Party has publicly criticized Jones and his administration for favoring Occupy Richmond activists. They have cited his public comments stating his sympathies with the anti-Wall Street movement as a child of the civil rights movement and its protests.

The Tea Party said Jones’ administration sought permit fees, portable toilets and other demands for their events, but had given Occupy Richmond a free pass.

The Occupy movement pitched tents for two weeks on a city-owned plaza until police cleared them out in a pre-dawn sweep on Oct. 31.

The occupation costs the city $17,640, primarily for police and public works overtime costs, according to a city accounting based on a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the AP.

The costs did not include a subsequent occupation on the lawn of the mayor’s neighbor.

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