Thursday, January 17, 2019

Court Dismisses 7 of 8 Counts Because of a Tolling Agreement Ambiguity (1/17/19)

In United States v. Brattain, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6494 (E.D. Mich. 2019), here, the defendant was charged in the superseding indictment, here, for with 7 counts of aiding and assisting, § 7206(2), and 1 count of the defraud / Klein conspiracy.  The Court dismissed the 7 counts of aiding and assisting because the tolling agreement, drafted by the Government, was ambiguous as to whether it covered aiding and assisting and therefore, since tolling agreements are construed against the drafter, it did not cover aiding and assisting.

The tolling agreement provided in relevant part that (i) the U.S. Attorney was prepared to seek an indictment alleging  "that defendant made or subscribed a false tax return in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7206;" and (ii) that Brattain "agree[s] that the running of the statute of limitations applicable to the offenses described above will be tolled ..."

Tax crimes enthusiasts should spot the problem immediately.  The text refers to § 7206(1) (which I refer to as tax perjury) but the code section cited in the tolling agreement is § 7206 without limiting to § 7206(1), the provision for making or subscribing a false return.  The Government indicted for § 7206(2), which is for aiding and assisting of a false return.  That made the tolling agreement ambiguous.  Hence, the tolling agreement did not cover the charges and those counts are dismissed.

For those with access to Court Listener (free), the opinion docket entries are here where the superseding indictment and the opinion may be downloaded.

JAT Comments:

1.  The tolling agreement also covered allegations of FBAR violations -- failure "to report foreign bank and financial accounts in violation of Title 31, United States Code, Sections 5314 and 5322."  The superseding indictment does not cover those charges.  There is no indication why those charges are omitted.

2.  The dismissal of the 7 aiding and assisting counts leaves the sole count of the defraud / Klein conspiracy.

3.  The allegations in the complaint generally and particularly in the defraud / Klein conspiracy count seem to me to be fairly skinny.  There are no allegations about who the defendant is or as to venue.  More importantly, the overt acts are presented crisply, and included the filing of original and amended returns for some years.  In a conspiracy count, particularly for a defraud / Klein conspiracy, the allegations will give paint a detailed and damning picture of the overall conspiracy.  The picture is presented in a statement of the manner and means and the overt acts.  In the Brattain superseding indictment the indictment alleges the overt acts without manner and means allegations.

4.  If Brattain is convicted on the conspiracy count, his maximum sentencing exposure is 5 years which will likely be more than ample to cover his Guidelines sentence.  In this regard, the dismissed counts are likely related to the conspiracy and would be relevant conduct, the tax loss from which would be included in Brattain's guidelines calculations.  Hence, his Guidelines sentencing range would be the same as if he were convicted of all relevant conduct crimes (including the dismissed counts, counts beyond the statute of limitations).  The dismissal of the 7 counts will only help if the sentencing judge considers that dismissal favorably to the defendant in a Booker variance.

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