La Jolla man's $30 mistake turns into $15,000 penalty

SAN DIEGO - Bill Lerach lives in a La Jolla Farms mansion over Black's Beach. He paid his property taxes before going on vacation last month but he accidentally made his check out for $30 less than what he owed. Now, that simple mistake has cost him more than $15,000.

The views are breathtaking from Lerach's 13,000-square-foot home. The property taxes alone on the estate are more than $300,000 a year.

It is something that Lerach stays on top of.

"I wrote the check," he told 10News. "I mailed it well before the due date and went off on vacation believing I had paid successfully."

However, there was a problem. Instead of paying $154,255, he paid $154,225. That is $30 less than what he owed.

"We all make innocent mistakes," he said.

When he returned from his vacation, he opened a letter from the tax collector saying he still owed $30. So, he gathered his paperwork and the next day went to the taxpayer's office to pay it.

That is when he heard the bombshell. Because his payment was now late, there was a 10 percent penalty, but not on the $30 he still owed. It was 10 percent on the entire $154,000 bill.

"Well, you know, I didn't know whether to faint or grab the clerk, neither of which would have worked," he said.  

Lerach paid the $15,000 penalty but he appealed it. He even showed the tax collector's office his plane ticket proving he was away when the late notice was mailed. The county denied the appeal.

"The law has rigid rules but the law also normally provides for the law enforcer to exercise discretion in certain circumstances," he said.

Lerach knows a thing or two about the law. He was a lawyer for decades.

10News called Dan McAllister, the county tax collector, and he said Lerach's case did not meet the criteria for canceling the penalty.

"I mean, if this appeal wasn't worthy of discretion being exercised to refund the money, I can't imagine what appeal would be," said Lerach.

10News asked McAllister how many appeals the county has granted and he said he cannot recall any in his 12 years in office.

As for Lerach, he is not sure what his next step is yet, but he did say he will never vote for McAllister again.

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