Once investors get over their initial shock that they were being bilked by Bernard Madoff in a massive Ponzi scheme they will be looking for ways lessen the impact. One of those ways is through the tax laws. Our tax attorneys have identified at least two possibilities. The first is that investors may be entitled to a theft loss pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 165. Unfortunately the year the loss can be deducted will probably be the subject of a tax dispute. Generally theft losses are deductible in the year of discovery. However, if there is still a possibility of recovery the deduction may need to be deferred.
Another idea is filing amended income tax returns for the last three years, taking the position that the payments received which had been reported as capital gains, dividends or interest were in fact a return of capital, and therefore non-taxable. This position is supported by Greenberg v. Commissioner, a 1996 case decided by the United States Tax Court. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) believes, however, that the rule in Greenberg only applies in limited situations. IRS Legal Memorandum ILM 200305028. It is likely that those who file amended returns will be subjected to a tax audit, and that barring a change of heart by the Internal Revenue Service will need to hire a tax litigation attorney to assist them.
Generally the tax law allows only three years from the date the original tax returns were filed to file amended returns. For most taxpayers this means that if they act quickly they can file amended returns for 2005, 2006, and 2007.