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.