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Articles Posted in Tax Preparer Penalties

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assessed against them under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6694.The Fifth Circuit affirmed their convictions in an unpublished opinion.
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The IRS’ tax lawyer, who failed to disclose multiple conflicts of interest.

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While having an attorney-client relationship with the benefit plan’s promoter, the tax attorney wrote several opinions for prospective plan participants. These opinions pertained to a benefit plan’s qualification under Internal Revenue Code section 419A. The tax lawyer later became a co-trustee of the plan, and during his tenure, he represented individual participants before the IRS concerning their tax problems. The plan’s promoter was paying him throughout this time.

The tax attorney, who was not identified, never advised any of his clients of the conflicts and failed to obtain informed consents from any of the parties involved. The conflicts arose when the attorney agreed to represent multiple parties with opposing interests, to become the co-trustee of the plan and to receive compensation from the promoter. His obligations to other parties and his own self-interest limited his ability to represent each of his clients successfully. Because they were unaware of the conflicts, the clients were unable to seek alternative legal counsel.

The attorney has agreed to cooperate in the investigation, recognized his violations and will take additional continuing education ethics classes over the next two years. The IRS’ OPR Director Karen L. Hawkins reminded attorneys that informing clients of conflicts of interest “is not a mere nicety.” She continued, “Taxpayers who pay handsomely for tax advice and representation have a fundamental right to expect competent and diligent representation unfettered by a practitioner’s responsibilities or obligations to someone else, or by the practitioner’s self-interest.”

Those who violate Circular 230 are subject to monetary penalties, censure, suspension and disbarment. Not just tax attorneys, but also enrolled agents, and CPAs are subject to the provisions of Circular 230, and therefore must avoid representing conflicting interests, unless appropriate conflict waivers are obtained.
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The UCLA Tax Controversy Institute is the preeminent conference in the United States dedicated to tax controversy and tax litigation. This year it will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 25th beginning at 8:30 AM. This year IRS speakers include:

• Sandra Brown, Chief, Tax Division, United States Attorney’s Office (C.D. Cal.)

• Deborah Butler, Associate Chief Counsel, Procedure and Administration, IRS, Washington, D.C.

The IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) alleged that Joseph Kozelsky did not file timely tax returns for 2001 through 2007 and did not timely pay his federal tax liability. As a result of his tax problems he was disbarred from practice before the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Kozelsky didn’t help himself very much, since he failed to respond to the IRS’s complaint within 30 days. As a result the facts alleged by the IRS were deemed admitted, and the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued an order that Mr. Kozelsky engaged in disreputable conduct and should be disbarred.

The IRS publishes rules for professionals practicing before the IRS, and those rules are set forth in Circular 230. We have previously published an article on the procedures involved in an OPR disciplinary matter. Circular 230 includes rules for individuals preparing tax returns, providing tax advice, and representing individuals before the IRS. Failure to timely file tax returns constitutes disreputable conduct under Circular 230 and subjects the offender to sanctions. In the case of Mr. Kozelsky, the IRS proposed disbarment from practice before the IRS and the ALJ presiding over the case agreed and ordered disbarment on November 17, 2010 since Mr. Kozelsky failed to respond to the OPR’s complaint.

If no appeal is filed within 30 days of the ALJ’s default order, the default order becomes final. Since Mr. Kozelsky appealed the ALJ decision to the IRS’s Appellate Authority on December 23, 2010, 6 days after the 30 day deadline, his appeal was not considered, and his disbarment became final.

Enrolled Agents are subject to the same Circular 230 rules as CPAs, and in a separate case, an Enrolled Agent was also disbarred from practice before the IRS. OPR filed a complaint against Susan Tomsha-Miguel alleging her failure to file timely tax returns, she failed to respond within 30 days, and the ALJ presiding over the case entered a default judgment for the IRS. The ALJ determined that the appropriate sanction was disbarment from practice before the IRS. In addition to CPAs and Enrolled Agents, Circular 230 rules and sanctions regarding failure to file tax returns also apply to tax attorneys (see post titled “Attorney Disbarred under Circular 230 Rules for Failure to File Tax Returns”).
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In May, the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) issued penalty guidelines, sometimes referred to as a “penalty grid” for imposing penalties on tax preparers, and others who are tax attorneys, CPAs, or enrolled agents who fail to file timely income tax returns. The late filing of an income or employment tax return by a CPA, tax attorneys, or enrolled agent is considered a violation of IRS Circular 230, punishable by suspension from practice before the IRS. The guidelines issued by OPR first point out that sanctions are determined on a fact specific basis, and the penalty grid is not intended to establish a rigid standard. The guidelines including the actual penalty grid made be found at the OPR website.

The penalty grid imposes a guideline penalty of two to four months for each late filed tax return, even though no tax was due. If the tax return is still not filed at the time OPR contacts the tax preparer then the guideline is four to six months for each non-filed tax return. If the late filings continue for four or more years than the baseline can be doubled! Thus a simple late filing of tax returns for four years can result in a suspension from practice for 32 months even though no tax is due.

If you are CPA, tax lawyer, or enrolled agent who has not filed his tax returns you have a serious tax problem, and you may wish to contact the tax controversy attorneys at Brager Tax Law Group, A P.C.

Effective April 1, 2009 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) will have a new Director- tax controversy attorney Karen Hawkins, Esq. Having known Karen professionally for a number of years I am confident that she will bring a well needed dose of practicality to OPR. Karen has worked tireless in many areas of tax litigation including most notably the innocent spouse arena where she successfully persuaded Congress to pass legislation clarifying (someone would say expanding) the availability of judicial review for innocent spouse cases under IRC Section 6015(f).

OPR has the responsibility for enforcing standards of competence, integrity and conduct for tax attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents who practice before the IRS. It enforces Circular 230, the rules and regulations which govern tax lawyers, CPAs, enrolled agents and others who practice before the IRS. Tax lawyers, CPAs and enrolled agents who violate Circular 230 are subject to discipline which may include suspension of practice before the IRS, and/or monetary fines.

Tax practitioners may run afoul of OPR if, for example, tax preparer penalties are imposed against them pursuant to IRC Section 6694 which provides for monetary penalties against tax preparers for various types of incorrect tax returns. Sometimes tax preparers agree to pay what in some instances is a small penalty under IRC Section 6694 rather than fight to have it set aside. This is generally a mistake since agreeing to an IRC Section 6694 penalty will almost always lead to an investigation by OPR, and possibly a suspension from practice.