August 2012 Archives

Offshore Bank Account Whistleblower Released from Prison

August 30, 2012,

Former Swiss banker Bradley Birkenfeld has been released from prison where he had served 30 months of his 40-month sentence for his work at UBS, AG helping clients hide their offshore bank accounts. Mr. Birkenfeld exposed the Swiss bank as a facilitator for U.S. taxpayers who wished to commit tax fraud, and hide their income from the IRS in part by failing to file Form TD F 90-22.1, the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report, commonly called the FBAR. Birkenfeld was linked to billionaire developer Igor Olenicoff who pled guilty to felony tax charges.

Mr. Birkenfeld was arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Government in 2008. Some tax attorneys believe that Birkenfeld got a raw deal at sentencing given his high level of cooperation with the IRS. Mr. Birkenfeld told the Department of Justice and Senate investigators about the illegal practices that the Swiss bank encouraged. For example, he claimed that UBS instructed him to solicit the business of affluent Americans by telling them about the tax advantages of having an offshore bank account. He began working for the bank in 2001.

UBS paid a $780 million fine in 2009. The bank agreed to release the names of more than 4,000 U.S. account holders. Since then, the Internal Revenue Service has offered limited amnesty to offshore bank account holders through its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. Its 2012 incarnation, the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, gives any taxpayer who failed to file an FBAR the chance to regain tax compliance. The program has raised over $5 billion in additional taxes so far.
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In 2009, Mr. Birkenfeld filed a claim under a law awarding whistleblowers up to 30 percent of revenues recovered because of their efforts. According to his lawyer, Mr. Birkenfeld has a claim for the taxes paid by UBS as part of its $780 million settlement.

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Former UBS Client Charged with Failure to File FBAR

August 17, 2012,

Willful failure to file a Form TD F 90-22.1, or Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report, more commonly known as an FBAR is a criminal violation of the Bank Secrecy Act. Luis A. Quintero, a former UBS Client, found that out first hand when he was sentenced recently to four months imprisonment.

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In 2004, Quintero formed two corporations, each with an offshore bank account opened at UBS AG of Switzerland. By the end of 2006, the total aggregate balance in the two accounts was over $4 million. He then transferred approximately $2.4 million from the accounts to the accounts of U.S. corporations he controlled. Although Quintero knew he had to file an FBAR and had previously filed the Form TD F 90-22.1 relating to bank accounts in Mexico in the name of one of his U.S. companies, he decided against filing it.

As part of an agreement and in order to avoid prosecution for helping taxpayers commit tax fraud, UBS provided the American government with the identities of certain U.S. customers. It is not clear from the Department of Justice press release whether Quintero was one of the UBS customers whose names was turned over to the IRS.

The IRS requires a U.S. citizen with an offshore bank account containing an aggregate value of more than $ 10,000 to file the FBAR. Those who have not filed the Form TD F 90-22.1 in the past, but wish to do so to comply with tax laws may be eligible to participate in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). By voluntarily disclosing Swiss or other foreign bank accounts, participants may be subject to lower penalties rather than all possible penalties were imposed after a tax audit by the IRS. On the other hand depending upon the situation many taxpayers may wish to take the risk of an IRS audit because the penalties could, with proper representation by a tax attorney, turn out to be lower than under OVDI.

In addition to the four months in prison, the court sentenced Quintero to three years of probation with 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 criminal fine. Quintero also paid $2 million in civil penalties for failing to file the FBAR. The penalty appears to be equal to 50% of the balance in his offshore accounts.

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Tax Evasion Conviction Affirmed by Seventh Circuit

August 14, 2012,

The sentence of an individual who pled guilty to tax fraud was affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. John McKinney was charged with eleven counts of tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud, impede, impair, obstruct and defeat the functions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the collection of income taxes. McKinney's actions are a textbook example of how to turn a financial problem into a criminal tax problem.

McKinney and his brother owned a construction company. Mr. McKinney failed to pay his taxes seven years between 1999 and 2006. In 2003, the IRS placed federal tax liens against McKinney for taxes he owed. He avoided the taxes by transferring money earned from his company into separate nominee accounts, which the brothers used for personal and household expenditures. McKinney gave the IRS Revenue Officer false statements regarding his ability to pay his taxes.

When his wife and sister-in-law applied for residential mortgages, which McKinney was unable to qualify for because of the federal tax liens, McKinney falsely told loan officers that they were both full-time employees of his company. However, neither worked for the company or reported this employment on their tax returns. These financial transactions diverted business income earned by the brothers into assets owned by their wives, thereby avoiding IRS tax assessments and tax liens.

The brothers made false statements regarding their inability to pay income taxes, causing the unsuspecting IRS to close its investigation in 2007. However, the IRS discovered the brothers' tax fraud, and charged the brothers in 2011. McKinney pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of tax evasion and three counts of making false statements. He was sentenced to nearly five years imprisonment with three years of supervised release. The court also ordered him to pay $1.5 million in restitution.

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Builder's Tax Problems are a Springboard to Criminal Tax Charges

August 8, 2012,

A North Carolina residential builder was arrested on criminal tax charges stemming from his civil tax problems. The Department of Justice and the IRS announced that William B. Clayton was charged with one count of attempting to obstruct IRS efforts to collect his unpaid tax liabilities and one count of knowingly converting and disposing of U.S. government property.

According to the indictment Clayton failed to file income tax returns from 1999 to 2004. He never filed for extensions. In 2005 and 2006, the IRS began assessment and collection proceedings against Clayton. In 2007, Clayton hired a certified public accountant to represent him before the IRS, and the CPA prepared and filed delinquent tax returns for him. Based on these returns, the IRS reduced its prior tax assessments. However, Clayton did not pay his liabilities, and collection proceedings against him continued. No doubt that included tax levies, and tax liens.

Between 2007 and 2010, Clayton allegedly obstructed the IRS' collection efforts. Clayton allegedly hid property located in Virginia, which he partially owned, from the IRS. According to the press release he destroyed property that he had previously built and owned but that the Service had seized. The IRS had planned to auction the property in an effort to pay down Clayton's tax liabilities. However, Clayton allegedly destroyed parts of the property and vandalized others.

If convicted, Clayton could face a maximum potential sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the tax law obstruction charge, and 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 on the conversion of government property charge.

As the IRS and the Department of Justice point out in their press release an indictment is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Still if the charges are true it should be a reminder to people not to allow their tax problems to turn into something worse. Depending upon Clayton's finances, chances are he could have resolved his tax problems through an offer in compromise, or an installment payment agreement with the IRS, but instead he allowed things to proceed to a point where instead the IRS filed criminal tax charges.

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Preparers' Tax Fraud Affirmed by the Fifth Circuit

August 6, 2012,

Thumbnail image for 1125087_person_jail.jpgThe convictions of a couple that committed tax fraud were affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The husband and wife were the owners and operators of a firm that prepared personal income tax returns in Texas. Donald Womack misrepresented himself as an accountant who has previously worked for the IRS. His wife, Tonya, helped Mr. Womack with the business. Her role progressed until she began filing clients' returns with the IRS electronically. The couple used the same electronic filing identification number (EFIN).

The IRS first noticed the Womacks based on the unusual deductions that were claimed on their clients' returns. Several of the Womack's clients testified against the couple, including one man who testified that Mr. Womack offered to provide false mileage logs to substantiate vehicle mileage deductions. Other former clients stated that they had never given the Womacks any information that would support the deductions that the couple claimed, such as charitable or mortgage-interest deductions. These clients are probably lucky they didn't get charged with tax evasion themselves!

The government also used an undercover IRS special agent, who brought in his tax information to the couple. Although he had calculated that he owed $300, the Womacks gave him a choice of three tax refund amounts, ranging from $3,200 to $4,200. Mrs. Womack claimed that, although she had taken a tax preparation course, all of her errors were accidental. Mr. Womack did not offer any theory as to the cause of his inaccuracies.

A jury indicted the couple on 26 counts of conspiracy and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. Mr. Womack was ordered to serve five years in prison, plus three years of supervised release. Mrs. Womack got off with three years of prison time, plus three years of supervised release. The court also ordered them to pay over $160,000 in restitution. This is over and above any civil tax preparer penalties that may be assessed against them under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6694.The Fifth Circuit affirmed their convictions in an unpublished opinion.

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