U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp sentenced Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach to one year probation Thursday on tax charges, before revoking the sentence five seconds later and sending her out of the courtroom a free woman.
Ryskamp chastised the government for prosecuting the 79-year-old woman when 38,000 other people in the same situation were given amnesty.
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“Based on these facts, did it ever occur to the government to dismiss these charges,” Ryskamp said. “Instead, the government decided it had to make a felon out of this woman?”\
Mark Daly, from the Department of Justice Tax Division, told Ryskamp that Curran’s husband, Mortimer, was a “very wealthy man” and shouldn’t have turned to a foreign national for an interpretation of U.S. Law.”
Another article: Susannah Nesmith & David Voreacos, Widow Gets Less Than Minute of Probation in U.S. Tax Case (Bloomberg 4/25/13), here. Excerpts:\
A 79-year-old widow who pleaded guilty in the largest individual case since a U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion began received less than a minute of probation from a judge who scolded prosecutors.
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“This is really a tragic situation,” Ryskamp said. “It seems to me the government should have used a little more discretion.”
Ryskamp urged Black to appeal to the president to pardon Curran.
“If the government doesn’t join in that, it’s just spiteful,” the judge said.
Mark Daly, a Justice Department trial attorney, declined to comment after the hearing. Daly didn’t oppose Black’s request for probation.
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Black argued in court papers that Curran’s “frugal and unassuming life despite her wealth” was one of the reasons the judge should sentence her to probation.
He also said it would be unfair to send her to prison when 38,000 U.S. taxpayers with offshore accounts have avoided prosecution since 2009 by entering the limited amnesty program, paying back taxes and identifying those who helped them hide their accounts from authorities.
Hundreds of taxpayers in the program gave prosecutors information that has helped build criminal cases against bankers and advisers. To be eligible for the voluntary disclosure program, taxpayers had to approach the IRS before the tax agency or the Justice Department learned about their offshore accounts.
Curran admitted that from 2001 to 2008 she failed to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. As a penalty, she had to pay half of the highest annual balance $26.8 million. She also acknowledged that she filed false tax returns for 2006 and 2007 and that she failed to tell her accountant about her offshore accounts.
Curran’s lawyer Nathan Hochman, who has practiced law for 25 years as a prosecutor and defense attorney, said he had never seen a sentencing like Curran’s.
“Judge Ryskamp’s sentencing is unprecedented in a number of respects: calling the government’s case against Mrs. Curran ‘tragic’ and ‘unfortunate,’ putting her on probation for effectively five seconds, urging Mrs. Curran to file a pardon application with the president, and telling the prosecutors they would be spiteful to oppose it,” Hochman said.