Kansas businessman still fighting $42M tax bill

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A prominent southeast Kansas businessman and his wife are locked in a dispute over a $42 million tax bill and questions over which state they resided nearly a decade ago.

For the past two years, Gene Bicknell has fought the tax bill that was levied based on where he lived at the time of the 2006 sale of National Pizza Company — the nation’s largest Pizza Hut franchise holder. He argues he was a Florida resident, but the Kansas Department of Revenue, citing its definition of domicile imposed around the time of the sale, disagrees.

Bicknell, formerly of Pittsburg, lost a ruling from the Kansas Court of Appeals in March, but a petition for review by the Kansas Supreme Court is pending.

Tim Connealy, CFO for the Bicknell Family Holding Company, said Friday the dispute has frustrated Gene and Rita Bicknell after a lifetime of building companies and creating jobs “to better the state.”

“The state was solely concerned with making sure it could to get a cut of Mr. Bicknell’s life work,” Connealy said. “The state’s actions are nothing short of a slap in the face to Mr. Bicknell and all of the economic and philanthropic benefit that he brought to his former state.”

Department of Revenue spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda declined to comment on the case, citing agency policy regarding pending litigation.

Bicknell spent a career building National Pizza Company, which had 790 stores at the time of the sale to Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity; the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Connealy said Bicknell moved to Florida before the sale, and owned a home and registered to vote there, while his wife lived in Kansas. Bicknell only spent a few months of the year in Kansas to visit family and friends, Connealy said.

The Kansas Department of Revenue audited the Bicknells’ taxes from 2005 through 2008 and determined the primary residence was in Kansas, not Florida as claimed on tax forms. He paid the $42 million tax bill in 2013 after filing a protest with the state Court of Tax Appeals. While the protest was pending in 2012, he also filed suit in contesting the rule as unconstitutionally vague.

A Shawnee County District Court judge ruled in March 2013 that the Bicknells hadn’t exhausted their legal remedies with the Court of Tax Appeals to challenge the rule. That opinion has been upheld by the Kansas Court of Appeals and now the Bicknells are awaiting a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court whether to hear the case.

Bicknell grew up in southeast Kansas and spent his career building companies from plastics to restaurant franchises. Bicknell was also active in Republican politics, running in 1986 and 1994 for the GOP nomination for governor.

He’s also dabbled in movies, television producing and music in his career, and in recent years has developed entertainment properties in Branson, Missouri.

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