Any person required under this title to pay any tax who willfully fails to pay such tax shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $25,000 ($100,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.There is but a thin line, if any, between Section 7203 (willful failure to pay) and Section 7201 (tax evasion, in this context called evasion of payment). Any practitioner or law student can recite the differing elements, but in a case such as Sherman's, they appear esoteric. (Maybe Sherman intended to just fail to pay but not to evade?) He apparently did file returns for those years (otherwise, presumably, the charge would have been failure to file), but the reports do not state whether he reported the income and just did not pay which might indeed justify a willful failure to pay plea.
Of course, getting a misdemeanor plea sure beats a felony plea, particularly because Sherman wants to continue to practice law without interruption by disbarment or temporary suspension. And, of course, copping a misdemeanor plea does often cap the sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines which are now advisory. In this particular case, however, I am not sure they produce a cap on the Guidelines Sentencing range. My quick and dirty calculation of the Guidelines range with $400,000 tax loss and acceptance of responsibility shows an indicated sentencing range of 18-24 months. (A tax loss just over $400,000 would have produced a sentencing range of 24-30 months.) Assuming the $400,000 tax loss is correct (and won't be increased during the PSR process), then the sentence under the Guidelines is not affected by whether the plea is to the two misdemeanor counts or to two felony counts or even one felony evasion count. That is to say that the Guidelines do not differentiate between misdemeanor and felony counts, except that, for example, two misdemeanor counts cap the sentence at 2 years whereas two felony counts of evasion would cap the sentence at 10 years (well above the Guidelines range). Thus, for example, if the tax loss had been $10,000,000, negotiating the plea of two misdemeanor counts rather than two evasion counts would achieve a real and major benefit under the Guidelines. But here, with a tax loss of $400,000, the indicated range is the same and within the maximum permitted by the counts of conviction whether the plea is to a misdemeanor or a felony.
Of course, the Guidelines are now just advisory. But, in any event, the maximum period of incarceration is still capped by the two misdemeanor counts of conviction. He is likely to get even less than the range. But it is hard to imagine that he will get probation.
As to why DOJ Tax accepted a misdemeanor rather than a felony plea, perhaps that is what the evidence demanded. On the other hand, perhaps DOJ Tax acted from compassion for this defendant to give him a shot at continuing to practice without interruption.