TOPEKA — Former gubernatorial candidate and Pizza Hut magnate Gene Bicknell is demanding the state of Kansas fork over $63 million owed the Englewood, Florida, retiree to conclude an income tax dispute initiated nearly 15 years ago.
The Kansas Department of Revenue engaged with Bicknell after the Pittsburg native sold his restaurant company, NPC International, in 2006. The department sent Bicknell a state income tax bill for tens of millions of dollars, alleging he was a resident of Kansas when he sold the business. Bicknell asserted his official residence was in Florida, but paid $29 million in tax and interest in 2013 and filed a lawsuit seeking reimbursement.
Initially, the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals ruled he was a Kansas resident for tax purposes. The Kansas Legislature passed a bill granting taxpayers an opportunity to challenge decisions in district court. Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed that bill, but the Republican-led House and Senate voted to override his veto. Bicknell celebrated when his case went to trial in Crawford County.
In 2019, District Court Senior Judge Richard Smith ruled in favor of Bicknell, who once owned the most Pizza Hut franchises in the nation. The judge said the state owed Bicknell a total of $48 million in tax, interest and penalty. However, Bicknell said, the delay in repayment had escalated the amount owed to $63 million.
“This has dragged on long enough,” Bicknell said in a statement Wednesday. “The amount of stress and pain the lawyers for the Kansas Department of Revenue have put my family through is unfathomable. My late wife Rita fought cancer. We both became ill traveling back and forth from Florida in the brutal Kansas winters for court filings, and to listen to ridiculous questions about Checkers, our farm cat.”
“Fourteen years into this and I am still pleading to be treated fairly by attorneys for the state of Kansas. My beloved Rita has now passed, and yet the harassment and personal attacks on both of us continues,” he said.
The Department of Revenue wasn’t available to comment. In the past, the agency declined to speak about the litigation or the judge’s ruling. Bicknell, who seeks a court order to force the repayment, said the state was unwilling to surrender.
“The Kansas Department of Revenue can appeal the trial court’s very thorough and detailed decision to the U.S. Supreme Court if they want to,” he said. “I can’t stop them from wasting more years of their time and resources, but in the meantime, I am entitled to the refund of my money.”
“Enough is enough. They will say and do anything to deny me justice. They had their chance in court, and the Court ruled in my favor in a 50-plus-page opinion. I want the money that is rightfully mine returned to me.”
He said the dispute began when the Department of Revenue said he owed the state $29.4 million in income tax. He said the state lost that case and now owed him $63.4 million, an amount that increases $2.4 million annually at a interest rate of 6%.
“We went through the courts, and we won,” Bicknell said. “The state cannot afford this foolishness any longer.”