Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Credit Suisse Banker, Fugitive from Indictment, Pleads Guilty for Offshore Enabler Misbehavior (6/29/16)

I am late in reporting this guilty plea by a previous indicted Swiss banker who was a fugitive until his guilty plea.  The DOJ Press Release is here.
Michele Bergantino, 48, a citizen of Italy and a resident of Switzerland, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee to conspiring to defraud the United States by assisting U.S. taxpayers to conceal foreign accounts and evade U.S. tax during his employment as a banker working for Credit Suisse AG on its North American desk. 
“Mr. Bergantino is now the third fugitive to come to the United States and plead guilty to charges in this case,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo. “To those who have actively assisted U.S. taxpayers in using offshore accounts to evade taxes, the message is clear:  staying outside the United States will provide little comfort.  We will investigate and charge you, and will work relentlessly to hold you to account for your actions.” 
“Hiding assets and creating secret accounts in an attempt to evade income taxes is a losing game,” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “Today’s plea shows that we will continue to prosecute bankers and U.S. citizens who engage in this criminal activity. I want to thank our law enforcement partners and prosecutors for their work on this important case.” 
Bergantino admitted that from 2002 to 2009, while working as a relationship manager for Credit Suisse in Switzerland, he participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers in evading their income taxes by concealing assets and income in secret Swiss bank accounts.  Bergantino oversaw a portfolio of accounts, largely owned by U.S. taxpayers residing on the West Coast, which grew to approximately $700 million of assets under management.  Bergantino admitted that the tax loss associated with his criminal conduct was more than $1.5 million but less than or equal to $3.5 million.   
During his time as a relationship manager, Bergantino assisted many U.S. clients in utilizing their Credit Suisse accounts to evade their U.S. income taxes and to facilitate concealment of the U.S clients’ undeclared financial accounts from the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Among the steps taken by Bergantino to assist clients in hiding their Swiss accounts were the following:  assuring them that Swiss bank secrecy laws would prevent Credit Suisse from disclosing their undeclared accounts to U.S. law enforcement; discussing business with clients only when they traveled to Zurich to meet him; structuring withdrawals from their undeclared accounts by sending multiple checks, each in amounts below $10,000, to clients in the United States; facilitating the withdrawal of large sums of cash by U.S. customers from their Credit Suisse accounts at Credit Suisse offices in the Bahamas, in Switzerland, particularly the Credit Suisse branch at the Zurich airport and at a financial institution in the United Kingdom; holding clients’ mail from delivery to the United States; issuing withdrawal checks from Credit Suisse’s correspondent bank in the United States; and taking actions to remove evidence of a U.S. client’s control over an account because the U.S. client intended to file a false and fraudulent income tax return.  Moreover, Bergantino understood that a number of his U.S. clients concealed their ownership and control of foreign financial accounts by holding those accounts in the names of nominee tax haven entities, or structures, which were frequently created in the form of foreign partnerships, trusts, corporations or foundations. 
A good article is David Voreacos, Ex-Credit Suisse Banker Pleads Guilty in Tax Evasion Case (Bloonberg 6/22/16), here.

Bergantino did not have to subject himself to U.S. criminal jurisdiction.  He was a resident of Switzerland which does not extradited for tax crimes.  He could have remained in Switzerland; Switzerland is a good place to live but it can be confining for people used to traveling in Europe and beyond.  (As I have noted, it can operate sort of as a "Club Fed."  See Switzerland as Club Fed for Swiss Enablers of U.S. Tax Crimes (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 10/24/13), here; for other Federal Tax Crimes Blogs mentioning or discussing "Club Fed", see here).  I infer that, in his assessment of whether to subject himself  to U.S. criminal jurisdiction and plead, Bergantino must have determined that the benefits outweighed the costs and risks.  The major risk for him is that the Court would impose material incarceration period.  But, I suspect that his very able lawyer mitigated the risk of that in the plea agreement, so that he will obtain either no incarceration period or a very short period, and that mitigation was key to Bergantino's cost/risk assessment.

One of the risks if he did not subject himself to U.S. jurisdiction voluntarily is that, should he leave Switzerland, he  might be subjected involuntarily through the INTERPOL Red Notice.  I discuss the INTERPOL Red Notice in a blog immediately following this blog entry.

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