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Articles Tagged with IRS criminal investigations

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the IRS has provided relief to taxpayers by extending filing and other deadlines. Now, in an internal memorandum from Fred Schindler the Director of Headquarters Collection (SBSE), the IRS continues to provide relief to taxpayers with tax debt by suspending most tax collection activities. These changes mirror the previous relief provided by the IRS, and restates the relief contained in the People First Initiative.  Our tax litigation attorneys are advising our clients that they can expect enforced tax collection activities to be suspended unless there is an exigent circumstance including the loss of the opportunity for the government to collect taxes due. The expiration of the statute of limitations is one example.

The importance of the memo is that while it mostly repeats and fleshes out the People First Initiative, it is a direct “order” from the head of SBSE Collection to all Collection Executives. The People First Initiative is a bit more nebulous in terms of its actual impact on the activities of rank and file employees.  The collection activities outlined in the memo include most activities related to the collection process such as meeting with taxpayers, filing new Notices of Federal Tax Liens (NFTL), issuing levies, taking or scheduling seizures actions, and pursuing civil suit proceedings. Automated tax levy programs are also suspended. The memorandum also directs Collections not to default installment agreements for missed payments due between April 1 and July 15, 2020 (the suspension period).  Due to the ongoing and ever changing nature of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, the IRS may extend the suspension period and the incorporated relief provisions further.

It is important for taxpayers and their advisors to remember that even though collection enforcement activity will be rare from now through July 15th, once the suspension period ends the IRS may begin filing liens and levies with a vengeance. Our tax lawyers are therefore recommending to our clients that, to the extent practicable, they position themselves to take appropriate action to forestall collection after the suspension period ends. This includes submitting offers in compromise, and requesting installment agreements now.

An article this summer in Tax Notes Today examined the United States government’s ability to tax cryptocurrencies. The article came days before cryptocurrencies saw another bullish run in which the value of a single unit of bitcoin once again passed $10,000. Additionally, the article references the comments of IRS special agent Gary Alford who stated the IRS is ready to enforce the taxation of a U.S. taxpayer’s gains from cryptocurrencies. Special agent Alford argues that the public’s familiarity with cryptocurrencies will make it easier for the IRS to file criminal tax cases against some taxpayers who evade their tax reporting obligations. Given this new warning from Alford, criminal tax attorneys need to be prepared to defend their clients who hold cryptocurrencies.

In Notice 2014-12, the IRS wrote that it considers cryptocurrencies to be property and, as such, the disposition or exchange of cryptocurrencies will be taxable. A clear example of a taxable event is where a bitcoin holder exchanges a single bitcoin (or any fraction thereof) for fiat currency. Fiat currency is understood to be currency backed by a national government, e.g. the Euro or U.S. dollar.

A tricky issue for taxpayers may be determining the adjusted basis of their holdings in a cryptocurrency to determine realized gain. Sometimes a single unit of cryptocurrency may have been involved in multiple exchanges and transactions before the taxpayer finally reports to the IRS he or she holds the cryptocurrency. The taxpayer is placed in the difficult task of proving the correct basis of the cryptocurrency. A taxpayer who provides an inaccurate basis is likely to be subject to penalties in addition to the amount in taxes owed.

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.

How the IRS Initiates Criminal Tax Investigations
What seemed like a minor transgression when filing your tax return could end up being a tax crime punishable by years in prison. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division (CI) pursues about 3,000 criminal prosecutions per year to provide a deterrent effect to all taxpayers. If you have been chosen as one of the taxpayers to be “made an example of”, you could face severe fines or time in jail in the name of increasing tax compliance by other taxpayers.

The criminal investigation process often begins when an auditor or collection agent detects possible tax fraud. The IRS can also be “tipped off” by the public—anyone can submit a 3949-A Information Referral form to the IRS that reports suspected tax law violations. Other law enforcement agencies can also reported suspicious activity to the IRS.

Special agents may then begin a preliminary investigation. A supervisor will evaluate the information to determine if further investigation is warranted. At least two layers of CI management must review the information before a criminal investigation can proceed.

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