In far southwest Colorado, the Internal Revenue Service is trying to seize 479 acres from a tax-averse town leader and longtime restaurant owner who allegedly owes $1 million.
Duvall “Val” Truelsen, an 82-year-old mayor pro tem in the small town of Dolores, and his wife were sued by the U.S. Justice Department on May 1 in federal court.
The federal government’s 19-page lawsuit accuses Truelsen of not filing a personal income tax return between 2013 and 2015, resulting in $81,782 in unpaid taxes and fees.
It also claims that Truelsen and his wife Deanna rarely paid employment and unemployment taxes during the final 14 years that they operated the Ponderosa Restaurant and Lounge in Dolores, which opened in the 1970s and closed in March of last year. As a result, the Truelsens owe $957,357 plus interest to the IRS, according to the lawsuit.
Reached by phone at a sawmill in Dolores that he owns, Val Truelsen said of the IRS matter, “It’s mostly my fault, not theirs.” He suggested the dispute was a minor paperwork issue — “I just didn’t get stuff in like I should’ve” — before declining to say more and ending the call.
The Justice Department is asking U.S. District Judge Kato Crews to let it seize 479 acres that Val Truelsen owns in rural Montezuma County, northeast of Dolores. It wants the property sold and the proceeds sent to the IRS as payment for the Truelsens’ back taxes.
In its lawsuit, the government said that the land has been owned by the Truelsen family for some time. Val Truelsen acquired it in 1978 following the death of his mother Olive, who was a rancher on the land for decades, according to a display in a nearby historical museum.
Last August, the IRS auctioned off a much smaller Truelsen property, a vacant half-acre lot in Dolores, due to unpaid taxes. It was sold for $47,000, county records show.
The IRS’ complaint against the Truelsens is civil, rather than criminal, and therefore does not carry a threat of prison time. With the exception of traffic tickets, the Truelsens have never been charged with a crime in Colorado, according to a review of state court records.
But the couple has kept taxation authorities and collection agencies busy.
On 10 occasions between 2010 and 2019, the Colorado Department of Revenue filed a distraint warrant against Val Truelsen. Distraint warrants allow CDOR to collect state taxes or seize property when taxes are owed. The warrants total $179,000 and remain unpaid.
Twice in the past six years, the Truelsens have been sued by the A1 Collection Agency in Grand Junction. In both cases they chose not to respond to the lawsuits, so judges ordered them to pay $14,075 and $6,140. They have paid the first judgment but not the second.
Val Truelsen was the mayor of Dolores, population 885, in the early and mid-2010s, according to the town’s website and past news articles. Since 2016 he has sat on the town’s board of trustees. He has been mayor pro tem, or vice mayor, since 2020.