Rosa B. Johnson, 71, thought it shameful that year after year hundreds of D.C. residents did not get their D.C. income tax refunds because city tax collectors could not find them.
So when the city published the names and addresses of 998 "lost" taxpayers due money totalling $109,187, Johnson, who says she has, "always been interested in forgotten people," turned sleuth.
One week about 20 taxpayers received telephone calls from Johnson, who reminded them of their refunds and told them how and where to get their money.
"She said she was a retired woman and didn't have much to do," said State Department attorney Scott Gudgeon, who has $129.73 comming. Gudgeon persuaded Johnson, who usually prefers to remain anonymous, to revela her identity to him.
"She thought there would be people who wouldn't be reached and who should receive their money," Gudgeon said. "She said she had called about six others and they were overjoyed, as was I," he said.
"It's a commentary on the hordes of bureaucrats in the D.C. government who cannot perform the kind of locator service that this lady can on her own time and resources," he added.
"I was very pleased she called and I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, but she wouldn't give me her name or address," said Beatrice Sizemore, of 1535 Massachusetts Ave. SE.
"It's just plain old community spirit, and I have no motive except to help people," Johnson explained.
How did she do it? After dinner, she nestled down in her comfortable rustcolored recliner next to the bedroom phone. Armed with a copy of the Nov. 4 Washington Star, where the list appeared, she slipped on her reading glasses to discern the small print and began chossing names at random.
A Washington native, she knows the city, so she checked for addresses that looked incorrect. In other cases her eyes just fell on a name, she said.
Then she looked up the names in the telephone directory. For those taxpayers who had moved, she got a recorded message with the new number, and called.
James Andy, chief of the tax compliance division, who placed the tax refund notice, said the unclaimed checks result form taxpayers moving after they file their income tax returns and leaving no forwarding address.
Johnson agreed that while address changes are the most common reason, unclaimed checks also result from such common errors as transposed numbers.
"One man lived at 609 . . . Street and the paper said 906," she explained. "In another case the address in the paper was 117 when it was really 17. Then sometimes they give the address as Northwest when it's really Northeast."
Andy said his staff of 124 does not have time to locate those who not receive their refund checks because his office must also track down delinquent taxpayers and monitor payments of business sales and income taxes.
Taxpayers expecting a refund should not wait for Johnson's call, but telepone the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue at 727-6073. Tax refunds can be collected any time.
"I'm finished for now," said Johnson, who lives alone in an upper Northwest apartment. "I have to save my eyes." She did not receive a refund. CAPTION: Picture, Rosa B. Johnson brings windfalls to "forgotten" taxpayers. By Tom Allen-The Washington Post