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Articles Posted in Tax Fraud

Most, if not all, Payroll Protection Program (PPP) borrowers are focused on the question of whether they will be able to have their PPP loan forgiven.  Many questions have arisen, and some but not all, have been answered by the Loan Forgiveness Application and instructions   released by the SBA on Friday, May 15, 2020.  Here are some of the highlights.

  • Annual “cash” payroll costs are capped at $100,000 per employee. While this is not news, the SBA calculates that this amount on a pro-rata basis for the 8 week “Covered Period” is $15,385. If you do the math, that is equal to 8 weeks per year divided by 52 weeks multiplied by $100,000. Some were hoping that those on a semi-monthly pay schedule could use a larger amount based upon 24 pay periods per year. Apparently not.
  • Alternative Payroll Covered Period. The Covered Period is generally eight weeks (actually 56 days) beginning on the date the loan is first funded. The Alternative Payroll Covered Period is only for employers with bi-weekly or more frequent payroll schedules. Therefore, it doesn’t appear to apply to employers who pay semi-monthly. It begins on the on the first day of the first payroll period following the PPP Loan Disbursement Date and ends 56 days later.  The following example is provided:  Alternative Payroll Covered Period: “… if the Borrower received its PPP loan proceeds on Monday, April 20, and the first day of its first pay period following its PPP loan disbursement is Sunday, April 26, the first day of the  Alternative Payroll Covered Period is April 26 and the last day of the Alternative Payroll Covered Period is Saturday, June 20.”  This suggests that one cannot include payments for a payroll period that begins before the PPP Loan Disbursement Date but is paid after that date. However, that is inconsistent with the Press Release issued concurrently by the SBA which states that the form and instructions provide “Flexibility to include eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses paid OR incurred during the eight-week period after receiving their PPP loan.” (emphasis supplied).  See more below.

In a 2019 U.S. Tax Court case, Palmolive Building Investors, LLC v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 4, (2019) (Palmolive II), the Tax Court held that both penalties determined by the Revenue Agent in a tax audit and additional penalties later determined  by an Appeals Officer in the IRS Independent Office of Appeals met the written approval requirements of I.R.C. § 6751; thus making Palmolive Building Investors, LLC (Palmolive) a two-time loser. Palmolive was initially in Tax Court in 2017 (Palmolive I) over a disallowed charitable deduction for a façade easement.  As the owner of a historical building in Chicago, it had donated a façade easement to a conservation organization and took a large charitable deduction for the easement. In addition to questioning the $33,410,000 valuation of the easement, the IRS argued that the mortgages on the building limited the easement’s protection in perpetuity. The Tax Court agreed and concluded that the façade easement was not protected in perpetuity and therefore failed to qualify for a charitable deduction under I.R.C. § 170(h)(5)(A).

Following the disallowance in Palmolive I, the taxpayer returned to the Tax Court to dispute whether the penalties assessed by the IRS complied with the provisions of IRC Section 6751(b)(1).  During a tax audit, a Revenue Agent had asserted in a 30-day letter that Palmolive was responsible for a 40% penalty for a gross valuation misstatement and a 20% negligence penalty. These two penalties were approved on Form 5701 by the Revenue Agent’s supervisor. Subsequently, a 60-day letter was issued. The taxpayer took its case to the IRS Office of Appeals. The Appeals Officer assigned to the case proposed four penalties: the two assessed by the Revenue Agent and the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties. The Appeals Officer’s immediate supervisor approved all of these penalties on Form 5402-c. In Tax Court, Palmolive argued that the initial determination of penalties was made by the Revenue Agent who did not assert the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties; therefore the penalties asserted by the Appeals Officer were not approved as part of the first determination of the penalties.

In examining the validity of the penalty assessments, the court cited I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1) which states that penalties can only be assessed when the initial determination of such penalties are approved in writing by the immediate supervisor of the person making the determination. The court also pointed out that the Congressional motive behind enacting this provision was to make sure penalties were not used as bargaining chips. The court first noted that all penalties were approved in writing. The next issue was what defines an “initial determination” for the purposes if I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1). The court held that the initial determination is when the penalties were first communicated to the taxpayer. The court stated that the Revenue Agent’s 2008 mailing of the 30-day letter was the date of the initial determination and the Appeals Officer’s 2014 issuance of the Notice of Final Partnership Administrate Adjustment are both initial determinations. Since the IRS forms were signed by the respective supervisors prior to the time of the initial determinations, the penalties met the requirements of Section 6751(b) (1).

South Carolina Bank Involved in Employment Tax Fraud Scheme
The former Vice President of a South Carolina-based bank has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by participating in an employment tax fraud scheme that resulted in over $1 million in unpaid payroll taxes. This case shows that the Department of Justice will go after those who are complicit in employment tax fraud in addition to businesses or individuals that fail to remit payroll taxes.

Douglas Corriher made several loans to a bank customer who operated staffing companies in North Carolina. These loans were made through nominees to circumvent federal laws that limit the amount that can be loaned to a single entity. Engaging in illegal activities is one of the badges of tax fraud, so these illegal loans may have indicated to the IRS that an intentional violation of a known legal duty was occurring.

The staffing company handled the payroll responsibilities—including remitting payroll taxes and filing W-2 forms—for thousands of low-wage temp workers. The W-2 forms indicated that the employment taxes had been withheld from the workers’ wages, even though they had not actually been paid.

Former IRS Revenue Officer Gets Prison Time for Tax Evasion
A former IRS revenue officer used his knowledge of the tax system to evade more than $573,000 in taxes over a 16-year period. Henti Lucian Baird hid his income—which was ironically made as a tax consultant—in bank accounts that he created in the names of his children. He has been sentenced to 43 months in prison for tax evasion and corruptly endeavoring to impede the administration of the revenue laws.

The Tax Evasion Scheme

Baird operated a tax consulting business from 1989 to 2014, after working for 12 years for the IRS. His inside knowledge of the IRS appears to have influenced how he structured his finances to evade federal income taxes, while avoiding detection for many years.

The Substitute Return: When the IRS Files Unfiled Returns For You
If you fail to file your tax return when you have a legal obligation to do so, the IRS can use the Substitute for Return (SFR) procedure to file it for you. There are several disadvantages to this scenario from a taxpayer’s perspective, and you should take action immediately upon receiving a notice that you haven’t filed your tax return.

First, the IRS will file your return based on reported information from your employers or businesses that paid you as an independent contractor, usually from W-2 or 1099 forms. However, the IRS has no way of knowing what deductions, exemptions, credits, or losses you are eligible to claim your tax return. Therefore, they will not give you credit for any of these amounts that could substantially reduce your tax liability.

Second, the failure to file a tax return is one of the badges of tax fraud, and the IRS may scrutinize a taxpayer who fails to file a return for other indications of tax fraud. This can result in civil tax fraud penalties of 75% of the amount of tax owed, or criminal tax fraud charges, that could result in more fines or jail time.

Have a Bankruptcy Judge Review Your Tax Fraud Penalty
Civil tax fraud penalties are 75% of the underpayment of tax attributable to tax fraud. Whenever the IRS believes that a taxpayer has intentionally violated a known legal duty, these penalties can be assessed, in addition to possible criminal prosecution.

The IRS or the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) need to prove that tax fraud was committed by clear and convincing evidence. However, sometimes these penalties are assessed in situations where there is insufficient evidence to meet this standard. In these cases, having a bankruptcy judge review your tax fraud penalty can be an excellent option.

While bankruptcy can be a good option for taxpayers that just want to discharge some of their tax debt, it can also be an effective way to resolve a tax dispute. Section 505 of the Bankruptcy Code provides authority for a judge to determine the amount of legality of any tax or penalty relating to tax, regardless of whether or not the taxpayer has already paid the disputed amount.

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