Many readers may not remember this, but back at the dawn of the personal computing revolution, there was a huge chain of retail stores called ComputerLand.
Think Best Buy without the Wii games and smartphones. ComputerLand stores were massive, with rows of over-packaged software and IBM computers. I used to visit one on Route 30 in Framingham, Mass., right next to a McDonald's.
That was one of about 800 stores at the company's peak in 1985. Five years later, most of the stores were closed, though the company survived until 1999.
Despite its rapid demise, ComputerLand made its founder, William H. Millard, a very wealthy man. So wealthy that Millard eventually ended up owing more than $100 million in back taxes to the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where he lived on the island of Saipan.
Like most incredibly wealthy people, Millard was more than eager to pay his fair share of taxes, and invited tax officials into his humble abode to write a personal, guaranteed check.
Oh, wait. That part of the narrative is wrong. Actually what happened is Millard sort of vanished in 1990, seemingly hiding his money around the world via a bunch of shell corporations and bank accounts.
Now, more than 20 years later, Millard has been found on Grand Cayman Island, a British Overseas Territory and the Shangri-La of corporations and rich people who enjoy the island's warm climate, stunning views and entirely tax-free economy. That last one probably is just a happy coincidence. You see, the wealthy are no different than the rest of us; just luckier!
If you're interested in the details of the years-long covert investigation that eventually located Millard, the Wall Street Journal offers a fascinating read.
Here's the funny thing about it, though: Millard didn't even know about the many millions he owed in taxes. As if rich people keep track of that minor stuff!
Terry Giles, a longtime former lawyer for Mr. Millard, said his ex-client wasn't made aware he owed a tax bill until just a few days ago, and dismissed as "ludicrous and insulting" the idea that Mr. Millard was hiding. Asked where Mr. Millard was from 1990 until now, Mr. Giles said, "I'm not going to do a single thing that would be helpful to" his pursuers.
I know what you're thinking: What about the shell companies, the bank accounts and trusts spread around the globe? Before you jump to conclusions, it should be pointed out that the guy has two daughters. Millard needed some way to keep them from draining his rainy-day fund! I mean, really, what's a father to do?
I would advise Millard to invite tax officials into his Grand Cayman Island home to straighten out this almost comical misunderstanding. Then they could all have a good laugh about it!