April 15 has come and gone, and if 2003 is like the years preceding it, the IRS had better be prepared for large amounts of tax fraud based on reparations for slavery.
In 2000 and 2001, the IRS received about 100,000 returns that claimed $2.7 billion in reparations from the federal government.
In a 1993 article in Essence Magazine, which claims to be "the preeminent lifestyle magazine for today's African-American woman," a columnist advised readers to claim $43,209 as a reparation deduction. The figure itself was based on the writer's calculation of the value of 40 acres and a mule, but the action was far from legal and even further from ethical.
Seekers of slave reparations have not restricted their efforts to the tax code, however. Lawyer Edward Fagan, who made his fortune in a $1.25 billion settlement with Swiss banks that were tenuously connected to Nazi-linked companies, has sued three American and British companies that were possibly connected with slavery for a sum of at least $2 billion.
One of the companies, FleetBoston Financial Corp., purportedly profited from loans made to a Providence, R.I. slave trader. The actual loans in question were allegedly made by Providence Bank, a financial company that is no longer in existence, but one of the hundreds of corporate building blocks that have merged over the years to form FleetBoston.
Fagan's lawsuits are not the first, nor are they the only ones extant. But given the feeble connection between FleetBoston and a 200-year-old loan to a supposed slave trader, the suit reeks of a corporate shakedown. What makes the situation frightening is that virtually any American corporation could be a target under these standards.
And reparations advocates have certainly chosen targets. Along with FleetBoston, companies and financiers such as CSX, Aetna, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Lloyds of London and dozens of others have seen such lawsuits filed against them.
Thankfully, the legal system has proved adequate in this instance, having thrown out these suits in droves, based on inability to determine plaintiff class, a long run-out statute of limitations and the simple fact that what the companies were alleged to be doing was perfectly legal at the time.