Donors gave $1.6 million to Kevin Strickland. How much will he actually get to keep?

Kevin Strickland managed a smile while talking to the media after his release Tuesday from prison. A judge on Tuesday granted the Jackson County prosecutors’ motion to exonerate Kevin Strickland in a 1978 triple murder and ordered his immediate release. Since he was sentenced to prison in June 1979, Strickland has spent more than 42 years and 4 months behind bars — or 15,487 days.
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  • Kevin Strickland
    American man convicted of triple homicide

Donors from around the world have given more than $1.6 million to Kevin Strickland, who was exonerated of a triple murder and released from prison last week after more than four decades behind bars.

Though he suffered the state’s longest known wrongful conviction, Strickland won’t receive a penny from Missouri, which only provides compensation to prisoners who prove their innocence through a specific DNA testing statute. That was not the case for Strickland, or most exonerees across America.

But tens of thousands of individuals have given to help Strickland start a new life now that he has been released from the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron.

While GoFundMe has collected more than $1.6 million in donations as of Monday afternoon, that cash won’t all go to Strickland.

The online fundraising platform takes a cut of all gifts to help fund its operations.

“To help us operate safely and securely, our payment processors deduct transaction fees (which include debit and credit charges) from each donation when made,” the website says. “Campaign beneficiaries receive all funds raised minus these transaction fees.”

A GoFundMe spokesperson said those fees cover the cost of processing financial transactions, which retailers like grocery stores and gas stations face when handling credit and debit card payments.

For each donation made, GoFund Me collects a transaction fee consisting of 2.9% of the donated amount, plus a 30-cent fee. So, for a single $1,000 donation, the platform would keep $29.30, leaving the remaining $970.70

The fundraiser’s goal has changed several times as donations have increased.

As of midday Monday, Strickland’s fundraiser had raised about $1,602,760, from 28,800 individual donors. With those figures, GoFundMe would keep about $55,000, leaving more than $1.5 million for Strickland.

GoFundMe says most recipients of its fundraisers are not subject to income taxes because the funds are considered personal gifts, not income.

In the United States, large gifts and inheritances can be taxed. But gifts of $15,000 or less are exempted from tax collection. Next year, that number will go up to $16,000.

Lawyer Tricia Rojo Bushnell, the executive director at the Midwest Innocence Project, set up the fundraiser for Strickland, who she represented. She consulted with a tax expert, who believed Strickland would face no taxes because each individual donation was well below the federal limit.

Garrett Watson, senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., agreed.

“Contributions to crowdfunding campaigns like GoFundMe are typically considered personal gifts,” Watson said, “so they would not be considered taxable income as long as the organizer of the campaign did not receive those funds for any goods or services.”

He said the federal thresholds apply per individual donor, not the cumulative amount. So as long as no one gives over the $15,000 limit, no taxes should be faced, Watson said.

If an individual gift exceeds that amount, the donor would need to file a federal gift tax return or account for the gift through the unified tax credit.

“It’s also important to note that these gifts are not tax deductible,” Watson said.

In many cases, even gifts above the $15,000 threshold face little to no tax liabilities, said Kevin Martin, tax research analyst with Kansas City-based H&R Block’s Tax Institute. That’s because of the many exclusions, deductions and credits that shield most gifts from taxes.

In cases when taxes are collected, though, it’s usually not the recipient who is on the hook. So even if Strickland were to receive a gift well over the $15,000 limit, it’s the donor who would potentially face a tax liability.

“A donee does not have any responsibility to report to the IRS the excluded gifts they receive, and is not responsible for paying the tax, if owed,” Martin said. “In a few cases, the IRS can attempt to collect unpaid gift tax liability from a recipient, but this is not common.”

So far, the largest donations have been from two donors who gave $10,000. One was a man named John Stephens. The other $10,000 came from John and Cameo Billharz, founders of Redwood Pediatrics in the Northland.

John Billharz told The Star he was born in 1979, the same year Strickland was convicted and sentenced to prison on one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder.

“He can’t get that time back, but you can help take care of somebody for the time they have left,” he said. “As a member of the community, both personally and as a business owner, it was an easy decision to make. It was the right thing to do.”

The Star’s Aarón Torres contributed to this story.

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