In United States v. Simon, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108079 (ND IN 2010), the defendant was indicted for various tax crimes, including failure to file FBAR reports for several years. As to the FBAR counts, the defendant urged that he was a signatory with no financial interest and thus, having filed delinquent FBARs within the extended filing period but before indictment, qualified for the relief, so that the indictments for the FBAR violations must be dismissed. The Government argued that he had a financial interest and thus did not qualify for the relief. In any event, the Government argued, even if he qualified for the signatory relief, the contemporaneous failure each year to file by the statute's due date (June 30 of the year following) was a crime, that crime could not be forgiven by administrative pronouncement, and thus the indictment must stand.
The court agreed. The following is its reasoning:
As the government sees it, Mr. Simon doesn't qualify for relief under the IRS notices because he had a financial interest, not just signature authority, in the foreign accounts. Even if he did qualify, the government argues, administrative relief can't change any criminal liability incurred before amendment of the regulation. The government further contends that the notices haven't become final regulations under the Administrative Procedures Act, and that Congress didn't expressly grant retroactive rule-making authority to the Treasury Department under Title 31. Mr. Simon's January 2010 filing of FBARs for 2005-2007, the government says, doesn't absolve him of criminal liability because under the regulations existing at the time the FBARs had to be filed by June 30 of the following year (June 30 of 2006, 2007, and 2008). The government also notes that Mr. Simon never filed an FBAR for 2003 or 2004.
In reply, Mr. Simon argues that he doesn't have a financial interest in Ichua, JS Elekta or Elekta, that 31 C.F.R. § 103.55 gives the Treasury Secretary authority to make exceptions to the reporting requirements, that the exceptions made by the administrative notices were expressly retroactive, and that he wasn't required to file a FBAR for 2004 because the account balance was less than $10,000. No documentation supports his factual assertions.
Whether Mr. Simon had a financial interest in a foreign account is a matter for resolution at trial, not on pretrial motions. The court agrees with the government, though, that if Mr. Simon committed a crime by failing to file an FBAR when the regulations required him to do so, a later regulatory amendment can't absolve him of criminal liability without retroactive modification of the underlying statute. See United States v. Hark, 320 U.S. 531, 64 S. Ct. 359, 88 L. Ed. 290 (1944); United States v. Uni Oil, Inc., 710 F.2d 1078, 1086 (5th Cir. 1983); City & County of Denver v. Bergland, 695 F.2d 465, 480 (10th Cir. 1982); United States v. Resnick, 455 F.2d 1127, 1134 (5th Cir. 1972); United States v. Masciandaro, 648 F. Supp. 2d 779, 784 (E.D. Va. 2009). The statute hasn't been changed.
Mr. Simon argues that the government is mistaken because none of these cases (or the several others the government cites) involved expressly retroactive regulations. Mr. Simon's description of the cited cases is accurate, but the court disagrees with Mr. Simon as to where that distinction leads. To agree with Mr. Simon that a regulation's self-declaration of retroactivity requires a different outcome would be to hold that an agency acquires the power to forgive crimes already committed by simply declaring its intent to exercise that power. The cited cases teach that even if an agency's regulations becomes intertwined in a crime's definition, it is Congress and not the agency that creates the crime, and only Congress can forgive the crime. See also United States v. U.S. Coin and Currency, 401 U.S. 715, 737-38, 91 S. Ct. 1041, 28 L. Ed. 2d 434 (1971); Allen v. Grand Central Aircraft Co., 347 U.S. 535, 553-555, 74 S. Ct. 745, 98 L. Ed. 933 (1954); United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304, 332, 57 S. Ct. 216, 81 L. Ed. 255 (1936).
The court denies Mr. Simon's motion to dismiss counts 5 through 8 of the indictment.I am concerned about this analysis. I think most practitioners working in the voluntary disclosure area have felt comforted by the Notices that the filings by the extended date of June 30, 2011 would solve any criminal problem for signatories. The Court says no; the Government can choose to prosecute despite the Notices.
Of course, there are potential defenses that one might invoke to perhaps prevent the Government from relying upon the FBARs thus elicited from U.S. persons with apparent assurance that all is and will be well.
Of course, the whole issue is really moot in the case if the defendant really had a financial interest rather than just a signatory interest (which appears likely reading between the lines). But, quite frankly, I am still concerned about the Court's holding that a signatory who files by the extended filing date can still be prosecuted.
Any thoughts from readers?