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IRS Criminal Tax Investigation Interesting Facts

April 18, 2014,

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Criminal tax cases generally start out in the IRS' Criminal Investigation (CI) division. It is therefore instructive to look at CI's annual report that was issued earlier this year for the 2013 fiscal year. To some extent, there were no surprises. International tax evasion and the voluntary disclosure program were among Criminal Investigation's top priorities. Also included on the list was the tax fraud referral program, and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) review teams.

The criminal tax folks also touted an increase in prosecution recommendations of 17.9% over the previous fiscal year. The Criminal Investigation division also trumpeted a conviction rate of 93.1%! It is this high conviction rate which drives the strategy of most criminal tax lawyers which is generally to seek to avoid indictment in the first place. Of course, that's easier said than done, but at a minimum it requires understanding all of the facts, good and bad, as early as possible.

Here are just a few of the tax evasion cases highlighted by Criminal Investigation in its annual report.

• 27 months in prison, and restitution of over $429,000. An Idaho general contractor concealed his business receipts from 2005 through 2008 by, among other things, instructing his customers to make checks payable to him personally rather than his business, and then failed to deposit those checks into the business' main bank account.

• 63 months in prison, and restitution of over 1.7 million dollars. A Chicago accountant embezzled millions of dollars from a family that owned a chain of plumbing wholesale supply companies. Believe it or not he had the sole authority to sign checks, transfer funds, and sign tax returns for the trusts he was managing. Apparently, the temptation was too much. Of course he didn't report the embezzled income; hence the tax fraud conviction.

• 36 months in prison, and over $2 million in restitution for a Santa Monica California lawyer. He pled guilty to willfully subscribing and filing false tax returns. The court filings indicated he used shell entities and trust to hide almost 1 million dollars in client fees and assets from the IRS. On top of that, he submitted a false offer in compromise to the IRS.

There is an urban myth that it is better to file no tax return than a fraudulent tax return. Like all urban myths it has a grain of truth. Failure to file a tax return is punishable by "only" one year in jail. Tax fraud or tax evasion is punishable by up to 5 years in jail. However, it is sometimes possible for federal tax prosecutors to charge a failure to file a tax return as tax evasion. This occurs where, in addition to failing to file the tax return, the person commits "overt acts" in furtherance of hiding the failure to file. Just ask the Nevada physician Robert David Forsyth who according to court documents was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay over $306,000. In addition to failing to file tax returns, he closed all of his personal bank accounts and used a third party business to cash his paychecks. He also used cash to pay his expenses. That was sufficient to support a tax fraud conviction with the higher sentence.

If you have been contacted by the Criminal Investigation division you should immediately contact a criminal tax lawyer before you speak to the IRS.

If you have any offshore bank account or other tax problems call the tax litigation attorneys at Brager Tax Law Group, A P.C.

Subscribe to the Free Online Publication, The Tax Terminator. It will keep you abreast of events that are making the news and perhaps affecting you or your business.

Tax Fraud Investigation Leads to California Construction Company Owner's Guilty Plea to Criminal Tax Charges

January 2, 2014,

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Civil tax problems were the least of Brian Kenny's worries on Thanksgiving. The California construction company owner, age 40, of San Francisco, pled guilty in November to filing false tax returns for his company, SF Bay Construction, for the 2006 tax year.

According to the press release from the Department of Justice ("DOJ") and the indictment, Kenny incorporated his business as an S Corporation in February of 2005, and was its sole shareholder through the end of 2007. Kenny's business tax returns for the years at issue, ranged from reporting a loss of $15,000 to a gain of $1.3 million at various times. The indictment alleged that all of these returns vastly underreported Kenny's business income. Originally, Kenny was charged with five criminal tax counts stemming from alleged under-inclusion of business income for the 2006 and 2007 tax years. The indictment also alleged that he filed a false Form 941, employment tax return. Ultimately, through a plea agreement, Kenny pled guilty to criminal tax charges only for the 2006 tax year. Kenny admitted that he failed to report more than $470,000 in gross receipts for 2006, and that he intentionally failed to supply accurate income information to his tax preparer.

Kenny's sentencing is scheduled for February 11, 2014, at which time he faces a maximum penalty of three years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The three-year prison sentence and accompanying fine faced by Kenny is for the single count of aiding and assisting in the preparation and presentation of a false U.S. income tax return, in violation of Title 26, U.S.C. § 7206(2); had he been charged with tax evasion, or tax fraud, Kenny would have faced an even more severe penalty.

From the information provided in the DOJ's indictment and release, it appears that Kenny intentionally provided false information to his tax preparer instead of preparing the fraudulent tax returns himself. This did not, however, reduce Kenny's culpability or lessen his tax problems in any way. In fact, it is likely that the IRS had Kenny's tax preparer lined up to testify against him. Generally speaking, the CPA or other tax return preparer is one of the first people IRS Special Agents contact whenever they build a criminal tax case.

If you have received a tax audit notice, or are under civil or criminal investigation by the IRS you should contact a tax litigation attorney to find out your options.

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The Family That Commits Tax Evasion Together May Go to Prison Together

October 4, 2013,

While tax fraud is often perpetrated by a single person, a recent case shows that offshore tax evasion can sometimes be a family affair as well. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recently announced a prosecution of an offshore tax evasion case involving multiple family members. This case illustrates the dangers involved when an older family member passes on without cleaning up his tax problems; this is especially true where there has been a failure to file Form TDF 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank Account (FBAR). Henry Seggerman, of New York and Los Angeles, pled guilty this summer to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., as well as two counts of filing false tax returns in connection with his family's criminal tax evasion scheme.
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Along with four other siblings, Seggerman inherited a substantial estate from his father Harry Seggerman, a wealthy New York businessman who passed away in 2001. According to the Department of Justice ("DOJ"), the senior Seggerman's fortune totaled $24 million, over half of which was held in undeclared Swiss bank accounts. While the DOJ did not say that either Henry Seggerman or any of his siblings actively assisted the late Harry Seggerman with his offshore tax fraud during his lifetime, Henry Seggerman allegedly filed false tax returns after his father's death that grossly underreported the value of his father's estate. Furthermore, the tax return that Henry filed on behalf of his father's estate failed to disclose the over $12 million hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

According to the DOJ, Henry Seggerman and his family continued this offshore tax fraud scheme for over a decade after their father's death. Seggerman was accused of taking further steps to set up new Swiss bank accounts to conceal the funds inherited by himself and his siblings. Aside from controlling his own offshore bank account, Seggerman was accused of helping his brother repatriate funds from a Swiss bank account to the U.S. under the guise of loans from a foundation that he controlled.

Similar to many others who have been accused of committing offshore tax evasion, Seggerman is expected to fully cooperate with U.S. authorities in exchange for the possibility of a reduced sentence. Seggerman is expected to testify on behalf of the U.S. in the trial of Michael Little, an attorney who advised the Seggermans on financial issues. Little, who is accused of operating an 11-year offshore tax fraud conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. Additionally, three of Seggerman's siblings have already pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and filing fraudulent tax returns. All three siblings are currently awaiting sentencing.

While no sentencing date has been set for Seggerman, he faces a maximum penalty of 11 years in federal prison. Additionally, he has already agreed to make a $600,000 restitution payment at the time of his sentencing; if the case follows past patterns it would not be surprising if the total restitution payments are in the 6 million dollar range.

Continue reading "The Family That Commits Tax Evasion Together May Go to Prison Together " »

78-year-old Illinois Businessman Sentenced to Prison for Multi-Year Offshore Tax Evasion Scheme

August 12, 2013,

Tax fraud is not limited to the young. The IRS has once again demonstrated that its pursuit of American citizens who commit tax evasion through the use of offshore bank accounts does not diminish when taxpayers of advanced age are involved. Seventy eight- year-old Peter Troost, of Skokie, Illinois, recently pled guilty to tax fraud charges stemming from his use of a Swiss bank account to evade more than $1 million in taxes dating back to 1999. Earlier this year, the TaxProblemAttorneyBlog discussed the prosecution and ultimate acquittal of Hawaiian auto mogul James Pflueger for offshore tax evasion and other criminal tax charges, noting that despite his age of 87 years old, the Department of Justice vigorously prosecuted the case arising from his offshore bank accounts.

ID-100104416.jpgNow, Peter Troost, the owner of Troost Memorials, a seller of gravestones and other cemetery markers, has pled guilty to an offshore tax evasion scheme in which he diverted income from both his business and various rental properties into a Swiss Bank Account located at UBS. According to his plea agreement, Troost diverted taxable income into his UBS account for at least 10 years, beginning in 1999. Troost admitted to intentionally failing to report both interest income and income from his business throughout his offshore tax evasion scheme. The timing of the end of Troost's offshore arrangement (and its discovery) is unsurprising, considering the IRS' increased scrutiny of offshore banks accounts resulting from UBS' deferred prosecution agreement to provide information about U.S. account holders that began in 2009.

According to the Department of Justice, Troost is the first taxpayer to be charged in Federal Court in Chicago arising out of the United States' 2009 agreement with UBS and other Swiss banks for those banks to provide information about U.S. taxpayers holding offshore bank accounts. Given the Department of Justice's vigorous prosecution of taxpayers who commit offshore tax fraud, Troost may not be the last Chicago-area businessperson to be investigated for use of an overseas bank account. Although Troost's involvement with UBS lasted for at least 10 years, given the IRS' increased enforcement efforts against individuals who own undeclared offshore bank accounts it is unlikely that many taxpayers will remain undetected for that long in the future.

Although Troost had already paid a substantial amount to the IRS including over $1 million in back taxes and a $3.75 million civil penalty, U.S. District Judge John Tharp, Jr. felt that financial penalties alone would not suffice to deter other potential tax cheats. In sentencing Troost to one year in federal prison followed by a year of supervised release and 200 hours of community service (not to mention an additional $32,500 fine), Judge Tharp stated that Troost's "deliberate, conscious decision" to evade taxes merited the more substantial sentence that he imposed. Despite Troost's advanced age, no special consideration was given to him during the sentencing.

If you have tax problems, don't let them turn into criminal tax problems. Contact a tax litigation lawyer for help.

Offshore Account Holders Beware. More Swiss Bank Account Information to Be Turned Over to the IRS

July 15, 2013,

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In a move which should send shivers through the spines of delinquent FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) filers the Swiss Federal Supreme Court has granted the IRS' request for the names of U.S persons holding "secret" Swiss bank accounts. The IRS had originally submitted a so-called group request in September 2011, but an account holder brought an appeal to the Swiss Federal Administrative Court which held that the group request was too vague and amounted to a fishing expedition. The IRS amended its group request, and the Federal Administrative Court ruled the amended request was allowable under the provisions of 1996 Convention between the United States and Switzerland for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income (the "Treaty").

Under the Treaty, the Swiss will supply information if the IRS can show a suspicion of "fraud or the like." Since Swiss and U.S. law are very different in terms of defining tax fraud it is sometimes difficult for tax attorneys in the U.S. to understand whether a particular set of factual circumstances will be considered fraud or the like. Indeed, "mere tax evasion" is not a crime in Switzerland. The key issue in the Credit Suisse case, however, was whether a "group request" i.e. one which describes a particular set of persons by their characteristics as opposed to providing a specific name could ever be honored.

According to its press release the Swiss Federal Supreme Court held that:

[R]equests for administrative assistance in relation with fraud and the like are in principle admissible under the 1996 Double Taxation Agreement with the United States, regardless of whether the suspicion falls on one or more persons and whether the said persons are explicitly named in the request.

In another words in the future the IRS can describe a class of individuals, and a Swiss Bank will be required to turn over their bank records. It wouldn't be a bit surprising if the IRS already has group requests in the works at other Swiss banks including those reportedly under investigation such as Julius Baer, Basler Kantonalbank, Zuercher Kantonalbank, HSBC, and Pictet.


It is hard to believe that anyone with a Swiss bank account is still laboring under the belief that their offshore accounts will remain secret from the IRS. The penalties for failure to file FBARS are very severe, and can include criminal convictions, as well as civil penalties which can reach 300% of the offshore account balances. In addition, criminal tax evasion charges could be brought by the IRS. Anyone with an offshore account needs to give serious consideration to whether or not they should enter the IRS' Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). With the IRS racking up continued success in obtaining the cooperation of foreign banks it could decide to close the OVDP at any time, and therefore waiting may not be an option.

87 Year Old Hawaiian Auto Mogul Acquitted of all Tax Fraud and Conspiracy Charges after District Court for District of Hawaii Finds Lack of Intent and Willfulness

May 2, 2013,

The U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii recently acquitted an 87-year-old auto dealership mogul of all tax fraud and conspiracy charges that the U.S. Government had brought against him. James Pflueger, who was facing multiple counts of both tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government, had been indicted on those charges in 2010 based on his alleged involvement in two separate tax fraud schemes. On March 20th, 2013, however, Pflueger was acquitted of all charges in what his criminal tax attorneys called "the Justice Department's first unsuccessful prosecution relating to the use of foreign bank accounts in the Government's ongoing international enforcement efforts."

Pflueger was initially indicted on tax fraud and conspiracy charges related to two separate incidents, the first of which involved a situation where Pflueger's company allegedly improperly paid for personal expenses of Pflueger's family, and the second of which involved alleged underreporting of gain from Pflueger's sale of one of his properties, known as Hacienda. The government also initially charged Pflueger with the failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), but dropped that charge before trial.

Dennis Duban, the accountant who handled Pflueger's financial affairs, had pled guilty in October 2012 to conspiracy and aiding in the filing of a false tax return. According to the government, Duban and Pflueger engineered the Hacienda sale to effect offshore tax evasion by transferring the proceeds from the sale to a Swiss bank account in order to prevent the proceeds from being used to pay civil claims arising from a 2006 accident at another of Pflueger's properties. However, Pflueger's criminal tax attorneys were successful in arguing that Pflueger was not responsible for his IRS tax problems, and that Duban was the sole mastermind of the tax fraud.

Over the course of a bench trial (which was elected by Pflueger's counsel partly due to concerns about jury prejudice resulting from the aforementioned well-publicized accidents at Pflueger's property), Judge Kobayashi of the District Court for the District of Hawaii held that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pflueger had conspired to obstruct the IRS. Kobayashi also agreed with Pflueger's arguments that he lacked the requisite intent for a conspiracy conviction (as well as a lack of financial wherewithal and knowledge), finding that "Pflueger relied in good faith on his company's accounting staff, and especially on Duban" in all matters related to his company's books. Kobayashi also acquitted Pflueger of the charges of filing false returns for 2004 and 2007, finding again that Pflueger lacked willfulness, and had relied in good faith on others that had committed tax fraud.

While Pflueger was ultimately acquitted it is worth noting that his advanced age, and his claimed reliance on his accountant did not nothing to stop the IRS from putting him through the stress and expense of a trial.

If you have received a tax audit notice, or are under civil or criminal investigation by the IRS you should contact a tax litigation attorney to find out your options.

Tax Preparers Beware! 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Tax Refund Suit Due to Inability to Prove Timely Filing of Amended Return

April 11, 2013,

The 6th Circuit recently taught an expensive lesson to a Michigan couple about carefully following procedure when dealing with IRS Tax Problems. In Stocker v. United States (6th Cir. 2013), the 6th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Robert and Laurel Stocker's suit against the IRS challenging the IRS' denial of a $64,000 tax refund, holding that because the Stockers could not prove the timely filing of their amended federal tax return under the methods established in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7502, the District Court for the Western District of Michigan was correct in dismissing the case.

The Stockers' tax problems and subsequent loss of their $64,000 refund occurred because of a seeming minor error. Following an IRS tax audit of a business in which the Stockers had invested and lost money, Mr. Stocker's CPA prepared amended 2003 federal tax returns for the Stockers that entitled them to a $64,000 refund. Mr. Stocker's CPA advised him that the returns had to be mailed by October 15, 2007 to comply with the tax law. Unfortunately, though Mr. Stocker testified that he mailed the returns on that day, he neglected to bring copies of the certified mail receipts to the post office, therefore failing to obtain date-stamped receipts. Apparently this was because although the CPA's office manager prepared postage prepaid, certified mail return receipted requested envelopes for the Stockers she mistakenly retained the customer copies of the certified mail receipts for the 2003 amended returns, rather than giving these copies to Mr. Stocker so that he could present them at the post office as he mailed the returns.

This left the Stockers at a disadvantage when their tax dispute began, as the IRS' records stated that the envelope containing the Stockers' amended 2003 return was postmarked four days late. Compounding the Stockers' tax problems, the IRS failed to retain the postmarked envelope in question. Seeking help in their tax dispute the Stockers brought suit, but the District Court granted the IRS' motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction due to the suit being barred as past the three-year period for filing a claim for a tax refund. On appeal, the 6th Circuit affirmed.

The 6th Circuit was unmoved by the Stockers' attempts to prove the mailing date of their return through means other than those set forth in IRC Section 7502. As the IRS' records indicated that the returns were postmarked four days late, the Stockers could not prove timely delivery under IRC Sec. 7502(a)(1), which states that the postmark of the returns establishes the date of mailing. Additionally, Mr. Stocker's failure to obtain the certified mail receipt precluded the use of IRC section 7502(c)(1), which states that the "date of registration shall be deemed the postmark date". The court rebuffed the Stockers' attempts to prove timely delivery through circumstantial evidence; rather, the Court stated that its own precedent prevented any other method of proof. Finally, the court held that the District Court had not abused its discretion in refusing to draw the inference that the Stockers had timely filed their returns because of the IRS' failure to retain the postmarked envelope in violation of internal policy.

Despite the seemingly minor nature of the Stockers' mistakes, the 6th Circuit was highly unsympathetic to their plight. Ultimately, the court reiterated that only certain procedures are available to prove timely filing, and the Stockers' own mistakes precluded them from receiving relief, despite their innocent nature. While calling it "unfortunate" that the Stockers could not prove the timeliness of their return, the court sent a strong message to taxpayers that it was unwilling to make exceptions for even the most innocent of mistakes.

Continue reading "Tax Preparers Beware! 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Tax Refund Suit Due to Inability to Prove Timely Filing of Amended Return " »

Prominent Tax Attorney Found Liable for Civil Tax Fraud Penalties Due to Finding of "Willful Blindness" to Underreporting of Income

March 20, 2013,

After being convicted of criminal tax fraud and serving 18 months in federal prison, a prominent former California tax attorney recently found himself again the subject of an IRS investigation into his alleged tax fraud. After a criminal tax case that culminated in Owen G. Fiore's guilty plea to tax evasion for the 1999 tax year, the IRS began to seek civil tax fraud penalties against Mr. Fiore for 1996 through 1999. Although Mr. Fiore conceded the tax disputes and the tax fraud charges for 1998 and 1999, he disputed his fraud liability for 1996 and 1997. While the Tax Court felt that it was unclear whether some of Mr. Fiore's actions weighed in favor of a finding of tax fraud, the court took a novel approach and ultimately held that Mr. Fiore had been "willfully blind" to his unreported income, and consequently found him liable for tax fraud for the 1996 and 1997 tax years.

Borrowing heavily from criminal law principles and discussing relevant appellate jurisprudence on the issue, the Tax Court applied the infrequently-used (at least in the area of civil tax fraud) willful blindness concept to Mr. Fiore's actions in the years in question. Specifically, the court stated that if the IRS could prove by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Fiore was "aware of a high probability of unreported income or improper deductions" and "deliberately avoided steps to confirm this awareness," the standard for civil tax fraud would be met.

Ultimately, the Tax Court found that Mr. Fiore met both prongs of the test for willful blindness. Discussing Mr. Fiore's extensive work experience and education, the court found that such experience ensured that he was aware of the risk of underreporting his income through generally neglecting firm administration. Furthermore, the court discussed Mr. Fiore's significant use of funds during the period in question, and inferred from this that he consciously chose to not pay taxes in order to have more funds on hand. As to the second prong of the test, the court found that since Fiore had access to bank statements, bills and deposit slips for each taxable year, yet failed to check them when preparing his tax returns, this constituted "deliberate" avoidance of steps to confirm the underreporting of his income.

After this discussion of Mr. Fiore's tax return problems, the Tax Court concluded that the finding of willful blindness not only weighed in favor of tax fraud, but deserved "particular weight" in determining whether Mr. Fiore had committed tax fraud. When added to other factors such as Mr. Fiore's repeated failure to cooperate in his IRS tax audits, consistent underreporting of income, and haphazard recordkeeping (none of which conclusively weighed in favor of a finding of tax fraud on their own), the court found that the IRS had met the burden of proof to show that Mr. Fiore committed tax fraud in 1996 and 1997.

Continue reading "Prominent Tax Attorney Found Liable for Civil Tax Fraud Penalties Due to Finding of "Willful Blindness" to Underreporting of Income " »

Streamlined Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) Filing Compliance Procedure FAQs Issued by IRS for Non-Resident Taxpayers

March 6, 2013,

Last year the IRS announced an alternative to its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Program (OVDP) which was being made available to a limited group of non-resident individuals who failed to file Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBARs) on Form TDF 90-22.1. Our tax lawyers blogged about the Streamlined Program previously, taking a look at some of the pros and cons. Now the IRS has issued six Frequently Asked Questions about the Streamlined Compliance Program.

The most important FAQ is the first one. It makes clear that taxpayers who have a tax liability greater than $1,500 may apply to the Streamlined Program. It cautions that if a taxpayer exceeds the $1,500 threshold he or she may be classified as higher risk, and under FAQ No. 2 may be subject to higher penalties. It appears that the Streamlined Program may be a good bet for those individuals whose liability exceeds the threshold by a relatively small amount, perhaps $1,000 or $2,000, or even as much as $3,500. In the judgment of our tax attorneys going over that amount could be problematic, although as with tax problems in general and FBAR problems in particular, there is no substitute for a review of all of the facts. Simply put, a case by case determination is necessary before making the decision.

FAQ No. 3 provides that an individual who is already in the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure initiative (OVDI) or the earlier or later OVDP, who qualifies under the
Streamlined Procedure may move over from those programs into the Streamlined Procedure. Like everything else about the IRS' OVDP it is not possible to do so without risk. Specifically, the FAQs require one to opt-out of the OVDP by way of an irrevocable election. Only then will the examiner determine whether the taxpayer meets all of the qualifications of the Streamlined Procedure. So it is possible, especially in cases where the taxpayer is over the $1,500 per year threshold , to opt out, and wind up in a situation with the IRS asserting either a non-willful FBAR penalty, or even a willful FBAR penalty.

This is just another example of the IRS making FBAR compliance more difficult than necessary. There is no good reason why the IRS could simply combine the OVDP and the Streamlined Procedure into one coordinated system. A taxpayer wishing to come clean, and who believes she qualifies, could apply under the Streamlined Procedure, and then if the IRS disagreed that person would automatically be phased into the standard OVDP.

The reverse should also be the case. If a taxpayer is already in OVDP she should be able to get a determination as to whether she qualifies under the Streamlined Procedure without having to opt out, and possibly incur disastrous consequences.

As in all FBAR cases involving substantial dollars a knowledgeable tax lawyer should be consulted before anything is done.

Continue reading "Streamlined Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) Filing Compliance Procedure FAQs Issued by IRS for Non-Resident Taxpayers " »

San Diego Used Car Dealer Sentenced in Tax Fraud Case

January 28, 2013,

Many people have the preconceived notion that used car salesmen are less than scrupulous and Mohammad Jafar Nikbakht didn't do anything to help that stereotype. Late last year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Mohammad Nikbakht aka Freydoon Nikbakht was sentenced to 15 months in prison for criminal tax evasion for the year 2007. Mr. Nikbakht was the owner or co-owner of a number of wholesale used car dealerships in and around San Diego, California. He willfully and fraudulently understated his income on his Forms 1040 in a conscious attempt to avoid paying his federal income tax totaling over $200,000.

According to papers filed in his criminal tax case beginning in October 1999, Mr. Nikbakht purposely caused a false joint income tax return to be prepared on behalf of himself and his wife for tax year 1998, which substantially understated their income. Mr. Nikbakht signed and filed this fraudulent return with the Internal Revenue Service as well as doing the same for tax years 1999 and 2000. His intention was to knowingly and wantonly defraud the U.S. government of tax due and owing for those years.

In addition to filing false returns for 1998 through 2000, Mohammad Nikbakht allegedly also committed tax fraud by filing fraudulent Forms 1040 for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, again purposely understating his income. For the years 2006 and 2007 he didn't file tax returns even though they were required. In his attempt to further criminally evade the income tax due and owing he operated a wholesale auto dealership under another dealer's license and had all of his income payments made payable to either cash or his ex-wife in an effort to hide his income. He moved money into, out of and between various bank accounts to hide the money from the IRS and created a sham corporation, opening a bank account in that corporation's name that he used to pay his personal expenses, again in a concerted effort to conceal his income.

Mr. Nikbakht eventually pled guilty to one count of the criminal tax indictment for 2007 with the remaining counts dismissed on the motion of the United States. In addition to 15 months in prison, Mr. Nikbakht was ordered to pay the IRS $124,454 in restitution and upon his release from prison will be on supervised release for three years. He will also be prohibited from opening checking accounts or incurring new credit card charges or opening additional lines of credit without approval of his probation officer.

Continue reading "San Diego Used Car Dealer Sentenced in Tax Fraud Case " »

Treating Employees As Independent Contractors Results in Criminal Tax Conviction

December 3, 2012,

In a criminal tax case last year the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the conviction of a man for willful failure to pay the employment taxes of his healthcare staffing business. U.S. v. McClain (8th Cir. 2011). In United States v. Francis Leroy McLain, No. 0:08-cr-00010 (D. Minn. Jul. 20, 2009) the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota determined that Francis McLain knew he should have classified the workers for his temporary nursing staffing agency as employees but willfully chose not to.

How did McLain's payroll tax problems morph into criminal tax problems? First, he never filed federal payroll tax returns (Form 941) for the periods from the fourth quarter of 2002 through the fourth quarter of 2005 and only made one payment in December 2002 in the approximate amount of $4,200 for employment taxes although the total amount due was approximately $345,000. McClain's defense was that the nurses were in fact independent contractors and not employees, and even if they weren't he had a good faith belief that the workers were employees.

The courts were not impressed with McClain's arguments since he had a history of misclassifying his temporary nursing staff as independent contractors. In a previous civil tax case involving a predecessor company the IRS argued that McClain willfully misclassified his workers and failed to remit the payroll taxes to the IRS. That lawsuit was eventually settled and the IRS obtained a judgment for the unpaid employment taxes, penalties and interest. As a further part of that settlement McLain agreed that "with respect to any other business similar to the ... entities that he might own, operate, or control in the future, he would treat as employees for tax purposes all workers who performed functions or duties that were the same or similar as the functions or duties performed by the nurses and nursing assistants who worked for the...entities. In other words, defendant McLain was obligated to withhold and pay over employment taxes for the nursing professionals who worked for any of his entitles." In addition, McLain did comply with a Minnesota's statute requiring that nurse staffing agencies like his certify that they are treating their nurses as employees and not independent contractors.

Sometimes it's a gray area whether to treat workers as employees or independent contractors; but the wrong decision can have detrimental consequences to an employer, and its officers, resulting in large payroll tax liabilities and even tax evasion or tax fraud charges. The IRS has a number of criteria they use in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor and these federal criteria may differ on a state level as well.

Continue reading "Treating Employees As Independent Contractors Results in Criminal Tax Conviction " »

Foreign Bank Accounts and the Failure to File Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBARS) May Be the Death Knell of the 5th Amendment

October 23, 2012,

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that offshore bank account records sought in a criminal tax investigation (related to a suspected failure to file Foreign Bank Account Report, TDF 90-22.1, i.e. FBAR) must be turned over to the IRS despite the fact that turning over those records would have incriminated the witness. The grand jury subpoena issued to the witness required him to produce any records required to be maintained pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act including records reflecting the names on the offshore bank accounts, and the maximum value of the account. The witness was an individual in Texas who was the target of a grand jury investigation seeking evidence he had used secret Swiss Bank accounts to engage in tax evasion. The IRS already knew based upon records it received from UBS that the witness held offshore bank accounts.

To lay people, and even to most tax attorneys this was a startling result. Actually it would have been more startling, but for the fact that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was the third Circuit Court of Appeals to hold that the Bank Secrecy Act which requires the filing of FBARs trumps the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Circuit, thus joined the 9th Circuit and the 7th Circuit which issued similar rulings in the last year.

The rulings rely on the "Required Records Doctrine." This is a rather arcane concept which I suspect even some criminal tax attorneys were not familiar with. To vastly oversimplify, the argument goes like this. The 5th Amendment only prohibits compelled testimony; therefore compelling someone to produce records that are voluntarily kept does not violate the 5th Amendment. The witness argued that the mere act of turning over the records was tantamount to compelled "testimony" since by turning over the records the witness was "testifying" as their existence, and also admitting that he knew about the foreign accounts. In addition, maintaining the documents in question are not voluntary since the Bank Secrecy Act "compels" one to keep certain records. Indeed it is a crime not to keep the records.

The Supreme Court has said however that the privilege against self-incrimination does not bar the government from imposing record-keeping and inspection requirements as part of a valid regulatory scheme. The doctrine first arose in the context of a wholesaler of fruit who was required to turn over certain records he was obligated to keep pursuant the Emergency Price Control Act. The Supreme Court explained in a later case that there are three prongs of the Required Records Doctrine. The records must be:

  1. Essentially regulatory

  2. Customarily kept; and

  3. Have public aspects.

The witness argued that the true purpose of the Bank Secrecy Act was to combat criminal activity, and not simply to regulate the use of foreign bank accounts. That argument was rejected. The 5th Circuit also held that the records were of a type "customarily kept," and that they had acquired public aspects by virtue of the fact that the Treasury Department shares information it collects with other agencies. In the words of the Fifth Circuit: "That this data sharing is designed to serve an important public purpose sufficient to imbue otherwise private foreign bank account records with public aspects is not difficult to imagine."

What is difficult to imagine is why the Courts are willing to throw away an important Constitutional safeguard for the sake of catching of few criminal tax cheats.

Continue reading "Foreign Bank Accounts and the Failure to File Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBARS) May Be the Death Knell of the 5th Amendment " »

California Tax Lawyer Enjoined From Providing Tax Advice or Preparing Tax Returns

October 10, 2012,

San Diego tax attorney Scott Waage was enjoined from preparing tax returns or giving tax advice pursuant to an injunction entered by a federal district court. The injunction had been sought by the Department of Justice in a complaint filed in the Southern District of California pursuant to Internal Revenue Codes Sections 7401, 7402 and 7408.

In its complaint the Department of Justice alleged that tax lawyer Waage along with CPA Robert O. Jensen promoted tax fraud schemes to clients that illegally reduced the client's reported income by, among other things, using sham consulting companies, and illegally structured employee benefit and pension plans. According to the complaint, Waage operated under the names of "The Tax Advisors Group, Inc." and "Pensions by Design." Apparently in his promotional materials tax lawyer Waage referred to himself as a "visionary tax attorney," and a seasoned tax litigator. Currently if you try to click on Waage's website at www.strategiclawgrouppc.com a message pops up that the site has been "disabled."

According to the Department of Justice press release CPA Jensen had been enjoined in March from preparing tax returns that understate income. It makes one wonder why the Department of Justice needed an injunction to prevent CPA Jensen from preparing tax returns that understate income! I always assumed that CPAs (as well as tax lawyers and enrolled agents for that matter) were already not supposed to understate income. Still the IRS uses the injunction process as a convenient, and relatively quick method of putting a tax preparer out of business; and sometimes as an alternative to a criminal tax prosecution. However, in some cases the IRS uses an injunction as a stop gap measure while it puts together its criminal tax case.

Tax attorney Waage is apparently no stranger to IRS tax problems. According to a summons action filed against him in 2008, Waage's law firm was under investigation for its federal income tax liabilities. U.S. v. Waage.

The injunction order against Waage also requires him to provide the IRS a list of his clients that have used his services since 2001. It is likely that those clients will be receiving tax audit notices from the IRS in the not too distant future. Even though the normal statute of limitations for income tax returns is only 3 years, in the case of tax fraud the statute of limitations is open indefinitely, and there is case law supporting the view that tax fraud includes tax fraud by the tax return preparer, nor merely the taxpayer.

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Criminal Tax Case Involving Offshore Bank Accounts Leads to Lawsuit Against U.S. Billionaire

September 4, 2012,

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When American billionaire Igor Olenicoff opened his offshore bank account with Swiss bank UBS, AG he was allegedly told he did not have to file Form TD F 90-22.1, or Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report, more commonly known as an FBAR, or pay taxes on the $180 million he held at the institution. In December 2007 Mr. Olenicoff pled guilty to willfully and knowingly filing a false tax return, yet sued the bank for $2.7 billion in damages less than a year later blaming it for his troubles. The case was dismissed last April because of his plea agreement, in which he took responsibility for his tax fraud in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Currently, UBS is suing Mr. Olenicoff for malicious prosecution. The bank argues that he was attempting to shift blame for not paying taxes on the money in his foreign bank account even though the billionaire swore in his criminal tax case that he willfully deceived the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Olenicoff maintained in his suit against UBS that the bank misled him, and in doing so let him down the road to where he was forced to plead guilty to the criminal tax charges against him. Olenicoff also claimed that UBS mismanaged his offshore account assets. The financial institution is suing for special damages, including attorney's fees and harm to the bank's reputation, of more than $3 million, as well as other damages in an unspecified amount. Given UBS' own settlement with the IRS for $780 million, its suit against Olenicoff is an interesting spectacle, but as a practical matter may not have much to do with the "average" foreign bank account holder.

Some people, who have failed to file FBARs reporting their foreign bank accounts did so as part of a plan to commit tax evasion by concealing their offshore bank account holdings. Others failed to file FBARs out of ignorance about the legal requirements. If you have a foreign bank account and are not currently in compliance you may be eligible for a reduced penalty under the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI). OVDI offers participants the opportunity to gain tax compliance. Most taxpayers with an undisclosed offshore bank account who are currently not undergoing investigation can take participate.

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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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