Thursday, January 13, 2022

5th Circuit Reverses Conviction to Have Court Calculate the Foreign Evidence Request Final Action for Statute of Limitations Suspension and, Properly Instructed, Have Jury Determine Whether Criminal Act Occurred in Statute of Limitations as Suspended (1/13/22)

In United States v. Pursley, ___ F.4th ___, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS ___ (5th Cir. 1/13/22), CA5 here and GS here [to come], the Court reversed Pursley’s judgment of conviction on conspiracy and tax evasion counts because

  • the district court had not calculated the statute of limitations suspension period for foreign evidence requests under 18 U.S.C. § 3292; and
  • the district had not instructed the jury that it must find an overt act/affirmative act within the applicable statute of limitations period as extended by § 3292.

The Court remanded to have the district court (i) calculate the suspension period under § 3292 and (ii) if after that calculation, there are acts that a jury could find were committed in the applicable statute of limitations (calculated with the suspension), to retry the case and submit the issue to the jury as to whether there were such acts.

For an introduction to § 3292, I offer the following from my 2013 Tax Crimes book which was the last time I considered it in detail (John A. Townsend, Federal Tax Crimes, 2013 pp. 463-466 ( 2013 SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2212771) (note I copy and paste the text without the footnotes, so those wanting the footnotes should download the pdf file; I think this remains a fair summary of the law even today):

b. Foreign Country Evidence.

             In a world where international commerce, often of the illegal sort and often assisting tax fraud, is increasing exponentially, key evidence may be overseas.  Because long delays may be encountered in gathering foreign evidence, 18 U.S.C. § 3292 in some cases permits the statute of limitations to be suspended during the period between the U.S. request for foreign evidence and the production of that evidence by the foreign authority.  The key elements for this tolling are:

Monday, January 10, 2022

3rd Circuit Rejects Argument to Extend Marinello Pending Proceeding Requirement for Tax Obstruction to the Defraud Klein Conspiracy (1/10/22)

In United States v. Desu, ___ Fed. 4th ___, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 465 (3rd Cir. 1/7/22), CA3 here and GS here, the Court affirmed a conviction of Desu for “tax fraud.”  The Court rejected several arguments but apparently wrote the precedential opinion to clarify the standard of review for an “an evidentiary hearing as provided in Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).”  The Franks hearing is a general process in criminal cases rather than related to tax, so I don’t discuss it here.

The Court did address, rather perfunctorily, a tax crimes issue that has been discussed several times on this blog – whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Marinello v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1101 (2018), holding that a pending administrative proceeding is required for tax obstruction can apply to and limit the tax defraud conspiracy (the Klein conspiracy) that arguably is sufficiently similar to tax obstruction as to warrant a pending administrative proceeding limitation.  The consensus of the holdings in other courts (district and circuit) has been that that aspect of Marinello does not apply to the defraud Klein conspiracy.

The Court rejected the argument.  The Court’s reasoning is short so I copy and paste pp. 7-9 (omitting a footnote):

III

     A

            Desu next argues that the two counts in the indictment alleging violations of 18 U.S.C. § 371 fail to state an offense. In those counts, the government alleges that Desu conspired “to defraud the IRS by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful government functions of the IRS to ascertain, compute, assess, and collect income taxes,” a crime known as a Klein conspiracy. App. 94, 100. Desu claims that [*8] both counts fail to state an offense under Marinello v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1101 (2018). In Marinello, the Supreme Court held that to convict someone of obstructing or impeding the administration of the Internal Revenue Code under 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a), the government must prove that a ‘“nexus’ [existed] between the defendant’s conduct and a particular administrative proceeding, such as an investigation, an audit, or other targeted administrative action.” Id. at 1109. Desu claims that both counts fail to state an offense because they do not allege that an investigation was pending when he committed the conspiracies as required by Marinello in the separate but similar statute. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Court Enters Stipulated Order to Prevent Alienation of Swiss Account Holdings (12/27/21; 12/30/21)

I recently blogged on an order in United States v. Scharzbaum (S.D. Fla. Dkt # 18-cv-81147-BLOOM/Reinhart) to repatriate Swiss account funds based on the district court’s holding that a U.S. person was subject to the willful penalty. District Court Upholds Repatriation Order for FBAR Willful Penalty While Liability on Appeal (11/4/21; 11/5/21)), here.  The parties continue to fight about whether the repatriation order should be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal. The pleadings on that commotion may be viewed on CourtListener, here, but Schwarzbaum summarizes his position in the Motion to Stay

If, on the other hand, the Court refuses to stay its Order and Mr. Schwarzbaum is forced to liquidate his foreign investment accounts before the appeal is  concluded, he faces the threat of significant and irreparable harm. Mr. Schwarzbaum would be required to pay the transaction costs [*2] and income taxes associated with the liquidation and transfer of his assets into the United States. If this Court's decision is subsequently overturned, Mr. Schwarzbaum would not be able to secure a refund of those taxes, nor could he force the United States to make him whole for the costs and taxes he never should have been required to pay. To avoid this untenable result, the Court should stay its Repatriation Order pending conclusion of the appeal.

Update on 12/30/21 1:30pm:  On 12/20/21, the Court granted Schwarzbaum's Motion to Stay Pending Appeal.  See CL here.

 In United States v. Monica Harrington (D. Colo. 1:21-cv-02601-RBJz), CL Docket Entries here,  the Government sought a preliminary injunction against Monica Harrington to require her to repatriate funds in a Swiss account.  See Docket entry # 1, here.  This request relates to an FBAR collection action against Monica Harrington’s husband, George Harrington, who allegedly transferred ownership of the account to his wife to avoid the U.S. collecting in the event the U.S. prevails in the FBAR collection suit.  The FBAR collection case against the husband is still pending.  United States v. George Harrington (D. Colo 1:19-cv-02965), CL Docket Entries here.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

FinCEN Adopts Immediately Effective Final Rule Omitting the Regulations Statement of the 2004 Willful Penalty Prior to the 2004 Statutory Amendment (12/26/21)

Readers may recall that the FBAR willful penalty, as amended in 2004, provides a maximum penalty of the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the amount in the account on the reporting date.  31 U.S.C. §5321(a)(5)(C).  Prior to 2004, the maximum willful penalty was $100,000.  After the 2004 amendment, FinCEN did not amend the regulation, 31 CFR § 1010.820(g), to reflect the change in the statute.  After the amendment, creative lawyers pursued the argument that, by leaving the regulation in tact, FinCEN exercised its discretion under the amended statute to maximize the FBAR willful penalty at $100,000 and thus could not assert a higher penalty under the amended statute.  That argument finally failed.  E.g., Norman v. United States, 942 F.3d 1111, 1117-1118 (Fed. Cir. 2019).

FinCEN has deleted subsection (g), thus eliminating any confusion (real or feigned) about the effect of the statutory amendment.  The Final Rule states that it is immediately effective on the date issued (12/23/21).  See 86 FR 72844, 72844-72845, here.

I have no idea why FinCEN took so long to make that deletion.

JAT Notes:

What is the effect of stating an effective date of 12/23/21?  Why didn’t FinCEN just state that the effective date was the 2004 amendment effective date?  Certainly, the deleted subsection (g) had been effectively deleted by 2004 amendment, as recognized by the court opinions prior to 12/23/21.

While I can't provide a definitive answer as to FinCEN's reasoning, I will step through my analysis.:

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

District Court for ED VA Dismisses Reverse False Claims Act Proceeding Against Credit Suisse (12/22/21)

In United States Ex Rel. John Doe v. Credit Suisse AG, (E.D. VA. No. 21-CV-00224) Order dated 12/17/21), here, the court dismissed this claim under the False Claims Act’s reverse false claims provision, 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(G).  The claim was that the relator, identified anonymously as John Doe, a former employee of Credit Suisse, AG, had information that Credit Suisse had failed to comply with its plea agreement regarding aiding and assisting U.S. taxpayers evade U.S. tax.  See Credit Suisse Pleads to One Count of Conspiracy to Aiding and Assisting (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 5/19/14; 5/20/14), here.  The key basis for the dismissal is that the reverse FCA claim must involve an obligation to the U.S. and here there was no obligation.  At most there was a potential obligation if the Government identified with the information additional claims it could make against Credit Suisse with the information and assess amounts due based on the information.

John Doe, a Birkenfeld-type whistleblower wannabe, claimed to have proof that Credit Suisse had withheld information in violation of the plea agreement that, if disclosed, would have resulted in larger amounts of penalties or other required payments to the U.S. 

 Furthermore, as a basis for dismissal, the court said that

             The Relator's case threatens to interfere with ongoing discussions with Credit Suisse regarding the identification and remediation of remaining Swiss accounts held by U.S. citizens. Civil litigation by the Relator, ostensibly on behalf of the United States and in parallel with the ongoing implementation of the plea agreement, would threaten the Department of Justice's ability to continue working with Credit Suisse in pursuit of uniquely governmental and federal interests. This is sufficient reason to dismiss. See Toomer, 2018 WL 4934070, at *5 (dismissing qui tam where the Government alleged that litigation would consume agency resources and impair its ability to work with the defendant).

            Further, the prosecution of the Relator's qui tam action would place a significant burden on Government resources. Courts have routinely held that preservation of Government resources is a valid purpose for dismissing a qui tam action. See, e.g., Sequoia Orange, 151 F.3d at 1146 (holding that the district court "properly noted that the government can legitimately consider the burden imposed by taxpayers by its litigation, and that, even if the relators were to litigate the FCA claims, the government would continue to incur enormous internal staff costs"); United States ex rel. Stovall v. Webster Univ., No. 3:15-V-03530-DCC, 2018 WL 3756888, at *3 (D.S.C. Aug. 8, 2018) (holding that the Government's "interest in preserving scarce resources by avoiding the time and expense necessary to monitor t[he] action" was a valid Government purpose for dismissal).

Friday, December 10, 2021

Fifth Circuit Affirms Defendant's Waiver of Counsel Conflict of Interest and Punts on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim on Direct Appeal (12/10/21)

In United States v. Fields (5th Cir. 12/10/21) (Unpublished and Nonprecedential), here, Fields was found guilty by the jury “of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and 13 counts of aiding and assisting in preparation and presentation of false tax returns.”  On appeal, Fields argued that “his attorney labored under several conflicts of interest, that the district court should have rejected his waiver of his right to conflict-free counsel, and that counsel was ineffective in failing to advise him to accept the Government’s plea offer.”

Fields' criminal conduct involved filing about 200 fraudulent returns claiming refunds, some of which were made.  Upon indictment, Fields was represented by three attorneys, one of whom (Dwight Jefferson) during the underlying criminal conduct used his lawyer trust account to cash some of the fraudulent refund checks and deliver the proceeds to Fields net of a fee for his “services.”

The Government raised the issue of possible conflict of interest with Jefferson as Fields’ attorney in the criminal trial.  The district court held two hearings on whether Fields’ validly waived the potential conflict of interest.  In the Fifth Circuit, those conflict of interest waiver hearings are called Garcia hearings.  United States v. Garcia, 517 F.2d 272, 278 (5th Cir. 1975), abrogated on other grounds by Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259, 263 & n.2 (1984).  Upon the conclusion of those hearings, the district court held that “Fields had validly waived his right to conflict-free representation.”

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit panel held that the district court had properly considered Fields’ waiver and that Fields “has not shown that his waiver was involuntary or unknowing.”  The panel further held:

            Fields has not shown that Jefferson’s belief that the potential conflicts would not affect his representation of Fields was unreasonable. See Rico, 51 F.3d at 511. Jefferson maintained that his testimony was unnecessary to explain the use of his IOLTA or inconsistencies between Fields’s representations to the IRS and his verified pleading in the TRO litigation. Jefferson also explained that Fields would be raising the defense of reliance on the advice of the IRS, rather than advice of counsel and nothing in the record indicates that the defense of reliance on the advice of counsel should have been raised at trial. In addition, the Government explained that it had no reason to believe Jefferson knowingly participated in the fraud, and Fields’s other two attorneys, who were independent of Jefferson, agreed that the conflict was waivable.

[*6]

            Thus, Fields has not shown that any conflict was sufficient to impugn the judicial system or render Fields’s trial inherently unfair, such that his right to conflict-free counsel was unwaivable.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Fifth Circuit Applies FBAR NonWillful Penalty Per Account and Not Per Form (11/30/21)

In United States v. Bittner, ___ F. 4th ___, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 35341 (5th Cir. 11/30/21), CA5 here, and GS here, the Court held that the FBAR nonwillful penalty in 31 USC § 5314 and the underlying regulations  31 CFR §§ 1010.306 and 1010.350 applies on a per account rather than a per form basis, so that, in this case where Bittner had a financial interest in well over 25 accounts per year for each of three years, the per account penalties aggregated $1.77 million.

The Bittner opinion, a unanimous opinion, conflicts with the panel majority opinion in United States v. Boyd, 991 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2021), but draws heavily on Judge Ikuta’s dissenting opinion in Boyd.  See CA9 Holds in Boyd that Nonwillful FBAR Civil Penalty Is Per Form Rather Than Per Account When Correct Delinquent FBA`R Is Filed (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/24/21; 3/31/21)), here

Bittner may petition for certiorari, but the Supreme Court may want the issue to bubble around a bit more in the Circuits to see if a consensus can be reached, with all courts then moving to the consensus view.  Alternatively, the Court might take certiorari to resolve the conflict, treating this as one of the few “tax” (or tax-related) cases it must take every year.  It does not appear to me that either of the two alternatives the Court takes would create that much mischief, an affliction the Court not uncommonly exhibits in tax cases.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Civil Liability for Conduct that is Acquitted in Criminal Case (11/20/21)

The Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal on all counts is in the news.  Acquittal or conviction (on some or all counts) was sure to become a political charged phenomenon.  I don’t deal with the political issues here. I respond to a question I was asked yesterday as to whether Rittenhouse’s acquittal absolves him of potential civil liability related to the same conduct for which he was acquitted and specifically address the criminal tax analog of the phenomenon.

For a discussion of the nontax answer, I point readers to this discussion:  Euguene Volokh, Could Kyle Rittenhouse Be Sued for Negligence? (The Volokh Conspiracy 11/20/21), here.  Professor Volokh answers the question succinctly at the beginning of the blog post:

A criminal acquittal doesn't preclude a civil lawsuit out of the same claims. First, the acquittal resolves only that guilt couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (requiring, say, a >90% confidence level); the standard for civil liability is preponderance of the evidence (which requires just >50%, or perhaps ≥50%, if the injury is easily proved and the burden is then shifted to the defendant to prove self-defense).

A similar phenomenon plays out in the criminal tax area.  A criminal tax evasion acquittal does not prevent the imposition of the civil fraud penalty in § 6663.  And, for the same reason:  the burden of proof for the civil fraud penalty is less than for the criminal penalty. so that acquittal is not issue or claim preclusive for the civil fraud penalty.  Civil liability for the civil fraud penalty requires that the Government prove civil fraud liability by clear and convincing evidence, a burden that as articulated is less burdensome (so to speak) for the Government than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

 Here is the key paragraph from my Federal Tax Procedure Book (2021 Practitioner Edition), p. 333 here (footnotes omitted from the quote but may be viewed at the link here):

If the taxpayer is acquitted of the tax evasion charge, however, the IRS may still assert the civil fraud penalty (the acquittal is not preclusive that there was no civil fraud).  Why?  A finding of not guilty is not necessarily a finding of innocence; it is only a finding that the government failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  In an ensuing civil tax case, the government must establish fraud only by clear and convincing evidence, a substantially lesser burden than the beyond a reasonable doubt requirement for criminal conviction.  Accordingly, the IRS may and usually does assert the civil fraud penalty when the taxpayer has been acquitted.

Most civil liability exposures relate to liabilities such as negligence discussed above that require proof of liability by a preponderance of the evidence.  Liability for the civil fraud penalty requires proof by clear and convincing evidence, a standard that falls somewhere between beyond a reasonable doubt (the criminal conviction standard) and preponderance of the evidence.  For discussion of the difficulties in articulating these standards, particularly in jury instructions useful to a jury, see discussion in my book pp. 331-332, here, particularly at n. 1414 and pp.601-602.

This blog post is cross-posted on my Federal Tax Procedure Blog here.

Monday, November 8, 2021

District Court holds (1) FBAR Penalty Statute of Limitations is Waivable and (2) FBAR Nonwillful Penalty is Per Account (11/8/21)

In United States v. Solomon, No. 20-82236-CIV-CAN, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210602 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 27, 2021), CL here, in a nonwillful FBAR collection suit, the Court held:

1. The FBAR assessment statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that may be waived by the person assessed the penalty (no distinction here between willful and nonwillful).  The FBAR assessment statute of limitations has no provision such as § 6501(c)(4) that requires that extensions by agreement must be made while the otherwise applicable period of limitations for tax assessments is still open; perhaps the implication is that, except for that explicit limitation on waivers by agreement, a taxpayer could waive with an untimely agreement. (In this regard, the Solomon court does conclude that the FBAR statute of limitations is not jurisdictional and thus can be waived.)  Accordingly, the execution of the agreement to extend for the FBAR penalties was a waiver of the statute of limitations that had already expired.  (On the jurisdictional issue, see Keith Fogg, IRS Succeeds in Jurisdictional Argument – With a Twist (Procedurally Taxing Blog 11/4/21), here.)

2.  The nonwillful penalty is per account rather than per form, adopting the Government’s position on this issue.  As the court notes in the following footnote (Slip Op. 10 n. 4):

n4 Of the courts that have addressed this issue to date, all but one have rejected the government's view, ruling or otherwise suggesting that a non-willful “violation” of the reporting requirement in 31 U.S.C. § 5314 is the failure to file an annual FBAR report — not the failure to “report” the citizen's interest in each foreign financial account. See United States v. Boyd, 991 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2021) (rejecting government's view); United States v. Bittner, 469 F. Supp. 3d 709 (E.D. Tex. 2020) appeal docketed, No. 20-40612 (5th Cir. Sept. 18, 2020) (same); United States v. Kaufman, 3:18-CV-00787 (KAD), 2021 WL 83478, **8–11 (D. Conn. Jan. 11, 2021) (same); United States v. Giraldi, CV202830SDWLDW, 2021 WL 1016215, *5 n.8 (D.N.J. Mar. 16, 2021) (same). But see United States v. Stromme, No. 20-24800-CIV (S.D. Fla. Jan. 25, 2021) (ECF No. 18 p. 3) (granting judgment in favor of United States for the full amount of penalties sought, agreeing that “each unreported relationship with a foreign financial agency constitutes an FBAR violation”). 

The Court’s analysis is comprehensive and well-reasoned, adopting in part Judge Ikuta's dissent in Boyd.  (That is not to say that the court's conclusion is right, for I think the issue is the type of issue that really can go either way; as I view these "go either way" issues, they proceed in search of a consensus (either in the courts or by statutory amendment) so that similarly situated citizens at some point get treated similarly but until consensus is reached, it is messy.)  

Thursday, November 4, 2021

District Court Upholds Repatriation Order for FBAR Willful Penalty While Liability on Appeal (11/4/21; 11/5/21))

I have written before several posts on the trial level saga at the trial level in United States v. Scharzbaum (S.D. Fla. Dkt # 18-cv-81147-BLOOM/Reinhart) an FBAR collection suit.  See particularly District Court Muddles an FBAR Willful Penalty Case (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/21/20; 3/24/20), here.  Basically, after trial, the district court entered an FBAR willful penalty judgment of $12,555,813.  That judgment is now on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit and was recently argued.  11th Circ. Mulls If IRS Should Revisit $12.5M FBAR Penalty, 2020 (Law360 315-118) (no link, subscription required); the oral argument on 10/5/21 is on the Court’s web page here.

In United States v. Scharzbaum (S.D. Fla. Dkt # 18-cv-81147-BLOOM/Reinhart 10/26/12), GS here and Cl here, the district court, sustaining the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, held that the Government was entitled to an order granting repatriation of funds in offshore accounts in support of collection of the judgment.  The Court supported the repatriation on the basis of the the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act of 1990, 28 U.S.C. §§ 3001, et seq. (“FDCPA”) and the incorporation of the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651.

The reason the Government wanted an order of repatriation is that, according to the Government, Schwarzaum was placing or had placed assets outside the collection power of the U.S., so that repatriation was necessary to collect the judgment.  Some interesting parts of the opinion are:

Sunday, October 31, 2021

District Court Holds that Custodial FBI Investigation on Arrest for Nontax Crime Producing Tax Crime Information Not in Charges Originally Made Did Not Violate Rights (10/31/21)

In United States v. Lieber, No. 1:20-CR-10111-RWZ, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 197575 (D. Mass. Oct. 13, 2021), CL opinion here and docket entries here, the Court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress statements made during a custodial interview by FBI agents after his arrest on the initial indictment charging nontax crimes.  I previously wrote on the superseding indictment Superseding Indictment for Former Harvard Chair on Tax and FBAR Crimes (7/29/20), here.

The opinion is very short and very well written.  I recommend readers of this blog read the whole thing.

In summary, the initial indictment charged Lieber with two counts of making false statements related to his federal funding for research at Harvard University.  Two FBI Agents arrested Lieber on July 28, 2020 pursuant to that initial indictment and took him to the Harvard University Police Department Headquarters where they questioned him for three hours.  The agents recorded the interview.  Before the questioning, they read Lieber the full Miranda rights for custodial interviews, which included the right to suspend the interview and consult with counsel.  In response to the Miranda warning about right to counsel, Lieber made equivocal statements about his need for counsel but did not expressly state that he wanted to consult with counsel before proceeding.  The Agents continued the interview and, in the course of the interview developed information that led to a superseding indictment which included two tax counts for tax perjury (§ 7206(1)) and two counts for failure to file an FBAR.

Lieber moved to suppress the fruits of the interview resulting in those additional counts in the superseding indictment.

As interpreted by the court, in the interview, Lieber did not make an unequivocal request for counsel.  Hence, the Court held that there was no Miranda problem with continuing the interview.  The Court also held that the circumstances of the interview were not coercive (enough) so as to prevent Lieber’s voluntariness in the interview.

These cases are fact-specific depending upon unique facts and nuances.  The Court gives an excellent discussion and probably as succinct as reasonable to capture the nuance.  I think therefore that I would disserve readers by attempting to offer more discussion than the summary I provide above.  I highly recommend reading the opinion.

 JAT Comments:

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Russian Bank Founder Sentenced for Crimes Related to Expatriation to Avoid Tax (10/30/21)

I recently wrote on the plea deal for Oleg Tinkov for evading tax on renouncing his citizenship.  See Plea Deal with Russian Bank Founder for Tax Perjury Requiring Payment of More than $500 Million (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 10/2/21), here.  Tinkov has been sentenced consistent with the plea deal.  See DOJ Tax Press Release titled Founder of Russian Bank Sentenced for Felony Tax Conviction Arising from Scheme to Evade Exit Tax while Renouncing his U.S. Citizenship (10/29/21), here.

Key Excerpts from the sentencing press release are:

The founder of a Russian bank was sentenced today for his felony conviction for filing a false tax return. As required under his plea agreement, prior to sentencing, Oleg Tinkov, aka Oleg Tinkoff, paid $508,936,184, more than double what he had sought to escape paying to the U.S. Treasury through a scheme to renounce his U.S. citizenship and conceal from the IRS large stock gains that he knew were reportable. This includes $248,525,339 in taxes, statutory interest on that tax and a nearly $100 million fraud penalty. Tinkov was additionally fined $250,000, which is the maximum allowed by statute, and sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release.

Tinkov was indicted in Sept. 2019 for willfully filing false tax returns, and was arrested on Feb. 26, 2020, in London, United Kingdom (UK). The United States sought extradition, and Tinkov contested on medical grounds. In public records, Tinkov has disclosed that he is undergoing a UK-based intensive treatment plan for acute myeloid leukemia and graft versus host disease, which has rendered him immunocompromised and unable to safely travel in the foreseeable future.

On Oct. 1, 2021, Tinkov entered a plea to one count of filing a false tax return. According to the plea agreement, Tinkov was born in Russia and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1996. From that time through 2013, he filed U.S. tax returns. In late 2005 or 2006, Tinkov founded Tinkoff Credit Services (TCS), a Russia-based branchless bank that provides its customers with online financial and banking services. Through a foreign entity, Tinkov indirectly held the majority of TCS shares.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Former IRS Tax Advocate Employee Indicted for Tax Evasion and Tax Obstruction (10/21/21)

DOJ Tax announced here the indictment of Wayne M. Garvin, previously Supervisory Associate Advocate with IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service in Philadelphia.  The indictment on CL is here.  The indictment charges three counts of tax evasion (§ 7201) and two counts of tax obstruction (§ 7212(a)).  The counts relate to false deductions on income tax returns and submission of false documents during the civil and criminal investigations. 

Key excerpts from the press release.

According to the indictment, Wayne M. Garvin, currently of Columbia, South Carolina, and previously of Philadelphia, allegedly filed individual income tax returns for the years 2012 through 2016 on which he claimed fraudulent deductions and expenses, including charitable contribution deductions and expenses associated with rental properties that he owned for some years. For the year 2013, Garvin also allegedly claimed he had expenses associated with service in the U.S. Army Reserves even though he did not perform any reservist duty that year. At the time Garvin filed his false tax returns, he was employed as a Supervisory Associate Advocate with the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service in Philadelphia.

The indictment also alleges that after the IRS began an audit of Garvin’s 2013 and 2014 tax returns, Garvin submitted fraudulent documents to the IRS revenue agent conducting the audit. Among other fraudulent documents, Garvin allegedly created receipts from a church, invoices from a contractor and a letter from the Department of the Army in an attempt to convince the IRS he was entitled to claim the deductions and expenses on his returns. Garvin allegedly submitted the fraudulent documents to the IRS to prevent the IRS from assessing additional taxes against him for 2013 and 2014. Finally, the indictment alleges that after the IRS notified Garvin that he was under criminal investigation for filing false tax returns, Garvin provided the same fraudulent documents to IRS Criminal Investigation that Garvin previously provided to the IRS revenue agent.

 JAT Comments:

1. I am reminded of the old adage that, when you have dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.  See the Wikipedia Entry on the Law of Holes, here (the entry notes: "The second law of holes is commonly known as: 'when you stop digging, you are still in a hole.'"

2. Done.

Reader Request for Pro Bono Local Counsel in ED VA (Alexandria) (10/21/21)

Anthony Verni of Verni Tax Law, here, has asked that I post the following information and request about his need for local counsel in an FBAR collection case (nonwillful penalty) in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Anthony is serving pro bono and seeks a local counsel willing to serve pro bono as well.

I am a New Jersey Attorney who is interested in representing a husband and wife, who are Virginia Residents pro bono. The suit, which was initially filed in California, but transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia, seeks to reduce FBAR assessments to a judgement. Treasury asserted the Non-Willful FBAR Penalty against both the husband and wife for multiple years, since the taxpayers exceeded the maximum amounts in the mitigation guidelines.

The Taxpayer and his spouse entered the OVDI in 2014 and submitted all the necessary reports, amended returns and penalty worksheet. Unfortunately, the law firm (Hogan Lovells) and accounting firm committed serious errors. From what I can glean, no one ever reviewed the FBARS and other filings, prior to filing. It also appears that very little was done in terms of follow up. Sometime in the latter part of 2016, the Law Firm withdrew from representing the Taxpayers. The Taxpayers subsequently hired the Anaford Law Firm out of Zurich, who in turn assigned the matter to one of its U.S. Attorneys, Milan K. Patel.

From my review it appears that the Anaford Law Firm did little, if anything, to either advance or protects the taxpayers’ rights. In March of 2017 the IRS removed the taxpayers from the OVDI and thereafter conducted an examination of the Taxpayers.  In addition, Mr. Patel was subsequently indicted and convicted on securities fraud and is currently serving a 15 month sentence.

In July of 2018 the IRS assessed Non Willful FBAR Penalties against each of the Taxpayers in the amount of $421,000.

There are a number of issues that both the service and the taxpayers never addressed including the number of accounts and the propriety of assessing penalties against the Spouse, who neither had an interest in nor was a signatory to any of the Foreign Financial Accounts. I need to retain local counsel on a pro bono basis to permit me to file a motion pro hac vice and represent these two taxpayers.  The case is captioned as United States of America v. Waheeb G. Antakly and Maria T. Antakly: Case Number: 1:21-cv-00801 (LO/JFA). The case is venued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria Division). The answer is due by the 25th of October, and as such, is time sensitive. I had asked the taxpayers to contact the DOJ Attorney handling this matter to see if the government will grant a short extension.

My reason for wanting to represent these taxpayers is based upon their current financial condition and based upon the poor representation they received thus far. I typically will handle one to two tax cases per year on a pro bono basis. This case caught my attention since it has novel issues pertaining to the mitigation guidelines and whether the taxpayer’s spouse, in fact, had an interest in or was signatory to any of the foreign financial accounts.

I can be reached at (561)531-8809 or by email at Anthony@vernitaxlaw.com.  I sure would appreciate it if someone could assist in this worthwhile effort. If I am unable to secure local counsel I will be unable to assist the taxpayers.

Monday, October 18, 2021

U.S. Sentencing Commission Judiciary Sentencing Information (“JSIN”) for Judges (10/17/21)

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has a tool on its website, titled Judiciary Sentencing Information, here.  The web page explains:

What is the Judiciary Sentencing Information (JSIN) platform?

The Judiciary Sentencing Information (JSIN) platform is an online sentencing data resource specifically developed with the needs of judges in mind. The platform provides quick and easy online access to sentencing data for similarly-situated defendants. JSIN expands upon the Commission’s longstanding practice of providing sentencing data at the request of federal judges by making some of the data provided through these special requests more broadly and easily available. If the court does consider the sentencing information provided by JSIN as part of its consideration of the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) when imposing sentence, it should do so only after considering the properly calculated guideline range and any applicable departures provided for in the Guidelines Manual.

The page offers a link to the tool, here, and “Frequently Asked Questions” about the tool.

Since the tool is for judges, with a presumption that some judges will use it and may have sentencing decisions influenced by it, prosecution and defense counsel should be familiar with how it works.

The Sentencing Law and Policy Blog has here a good post (with further links) titled "Sentencing Commission Data Tool Is Deeply Flawed" (quotation marks in the title, to indicate that it is reporting on a Law360 article (paywall).  The SLP Blog quotes the Law 360 article by Michael Yaeger extensively, so access to the Law360 article may not be required for some useful information.  It is interesting that the illustrative example Yaeger offers for his concerns about the limitations of the tool is a tax example as follows:

When JSIN is queried for stats on the position of the sentencing table for U.S. Sentencing Commission Section 2T1.1 — tax evasion, offense level 17 and criminal history I — JSIN reports the median sentence as 18 months.  But when one uses the commission's full dataset to calculate the median on that same cohort (Section 2T1.1, level 17, history I, no 5K1.1) and includes sentences of probation, the median is significantly lower.  Instead of JSIN's 18 months, the median is just 12 months. That's a whole six months lower — and a 33% decrease....

Yeager then is quoted as concluding:

Friday, October 15, 2021

Court Sustains Willful FBAR Penalty for Two of Four Years (10/15/21)

In United States v. Hughes, (N.D. Cal. 3:18-cv-05931-JCS Entry 162 10/13/21), CL here and TN here, the Court (Magistrate Judge by consent) held in Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law Regarding Willfulness (“FF&CL”) in an FBAR collection suit that the defendant, Timberly E. Hughes, was liable for the FBAR willful penalty for 2 of the 4 years for which the Government sought judgment.  For the two years that the Court did not sustain the willful FBAR penalty, the Court did not find Hughes nonwillful but held that the Government had not met its burden of proof.  (As the Court worded it, if the Court could have found her nonwillful, it would have done so, but instead found that the Government had not met its burden of proof, which  I infer means that the Court was in equipoise, the only circumstances that permits burden of proof to control the result.)

I am not sure that the conclusion that the Government had not met its burden of proof is supported by the Court’s findings.  I think that the inferences the Court drew on the objective findings are suspect.  The Court does state that it applied the reckless standard for the finding of willfulness.  But I am surprised that, on the objective facts recounted, the Court found the Government failed to meet burden of proof (preponderance).

There is a lot that could be discussed about the FF&CL  I offer below just some points that I focused on and think worth mentioning, but there are surely more interesting points.  Those wishing to go further will find a lot of the documents in the case available free at CourtListener docket entries here.

1. One factor that I think the Court gave short shrift to was Hughes’ income tax issues for those years.  The Government’s Post Trial Brief, Dkt. 158, here, at pp. 3-6, states the following under captions of “Income Shifting” and “False Business Addresses”):  Hughes had a bookkeeping service business, a Schedule C business, generating substantial U.S. source service income.  Hughes owned two foreign corporations which she improperly reported as Schedule C U.S/ operations.  One of those businesses generated major net losses (raising the hobby loss issue permitting deductions only against income which was minimal).  Hughes reported her bookkeeping service income as income of the businesses which she improperly reported on Schedule C, thus claiming deductions to which she was not entitled.  The erroneous deductions were from $331,145 to $1,306,505 for the years.  Apparently, she also gave a false U.S.  business address for the foreign entity, the inference being that she was trying to hide the foreign nature of the entity.  As a result of this reporting, Hughes underreported her income tax liability by over $600,000 in the years involved.  In  dismissing this as a relevant factor, the Court said (p. 22):

Monday, October 11, 2021

On the Pandora Papers (10/11/21)

Readers of this blog are aware of the major investigation and related articles about the “Pandora Papers.”  The Pandora Papers leaks arise from an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ("ICIJ"), here, which previously disclosed the Panama Papers.  The ICIJ page on the Pandora Papers is here.

I have not written on the Pandora Papers because the principal focus of the revelations has been disclosing hidden wealth, often from corrupt endeavors, in secrecy jurisdictions (often referred to as tax havens, tax being one of the principal reasons such secrecy jurisdictions attract wealth).  One previously identified secrecy-friendly jurisdiction is, unfortunately, the U.S. through certain states which have enacted corruption-friendly laws.

The Wikipedia entry for the Pandora Papers is here.  Wikipedia usually does a good job of updating with key information.

I offer some links to and excerpts from some articles I found helpful.  Some of the links may require subscriptions.  This is necessarily an anecdotal sample, but includes some that I thought particularly interesting and potentially informative to readers.

• Erin Adele Scharff & Kathleen DeLaney Thomas, Five myths about tax evasion (WAPO 10/8/21), here.  Excerpts:

Myth No. 4

Tax havens are all abroad.

            Portrayals of tax evasion tend to describe the problem as U.S. taxpayers transferring money overseas. The Tax Justice Network’s list of top tax havens, for example, focuses on countries (the British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands and Singapore, among others) where laws allow corporations to book profits in low-tax jurisdictions. Another list focuses on countries (including Taiwan, Bermuda and Liechtenstein) where foreign investment exceeds expected economic activity.

            As the Pandora Papers make clear, however, for foreign nationals the United States can serve as a tax haven. The rich can hide their wealth from local taxing authorities and the origins of that wealth from anti-corruption advocates. U.S. banking and trust laws make it hard to identify the owners of assets. For example, South Dakota allows virtually anyone to create a trust and name themselves as the trust’s beneficiary. The state also provides significant protection of trust assets from creditors and ensures the privacy of trusts.

            In fact, the Tax Justice Network ranks the United States just ahead of Switzerland in its Financial Secrecy Index. Of course, this is not the first time a trove of tax documents has shined a light on the United States’ role in hiding foreign assets. At the beginning of this year, Congress enacted new measures requiring more reporting of asset ownership, but states still have exceptional leeway to craft laws that help people avoid paying their share. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Plea Deal with Russian Bank Founder for Tax Perjury Requiring Payment of More than $500 Million (10/2/21)

I previously reported on the Indictment of Oleg Tinkov and move to extradite him.  U.S. Taxpayer Renouncing U.S. Citizenship Indicted And Extradition Started (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 5/11/20), here, where I discussed the DOJ press release.  I noted in the blog that the indictment charged two counts of tax perjury, § 7206(1), although, as his overall conduct was described, it seems that there could be other counts as well for which the grand jury could approve a superseding indictment.

Tinkov has now pled to a single count of tax perjury.  DOJ Press release “Founder of Russian Bank Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud: Admits to Concealing More Than $1 Billion in Assets when Renouncing U.S. Citizenship and Agrees to Pay More Than $500 Million Penalty” (10/1/21), here.  I tried to access the plea agreement on PACER (Dkt Entry 25), but the link said, “You do not have permission to view this document.”  I suppose it is under seal.  When it is unsealed, it will be available on PACER (fee required) and, likely soon thereafter, free on CourtListener, here.

In the meantime, I offer excerpts from the press release.  I focus first on the damning facts of his conduct:

According to the plea agreement, Oleg Tinkov, also known as Oleg Tinkoff, was born in Russia and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1996. From that time through 2013, he filed U.S. tax returns. In late 2005 or 2006, Tinkov founded Tinkoff Credit Services (TCS), a Russia-based branchless bank that provides its customers with online financial and banking services. Through a foreign entity, Tinkov indirectly held the majority of TCS shares.

In October 2013, TCS held an initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange and became a multi-billion dollar, publicly traded company. As part of going public, Tinkov sold a small portion of his majority shareholder stake for more than $192 million, and his assets following the IPO had a fair market value of more than $1.1 billion. Three days after the successful IPO, Tinkov went to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia, to relinquish his U.S. citizenship.

As part of his expatriation, Tinkov was required to file a U.S. Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement. This form requires expatriates with a net worth of $2 million or more to report the constructive sale of their assets worldwide to the IRS as if those assets were sold on the day before expatriation. The taxpayer is then required to report and pay tax on the gain from any such constructive sale.

Tinkov was told of his filing and tax obligations by both the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and his U.S.-based accountant. When asked by his accountant if his net worth was more than $2 million for purposes of filling out the expatriation form, Tinkov lied and told him he did not have assets above $2 million. When his accountant later inquired whether his net worth was under $2 million, rather than answer the question, Tinkov filled out the expatriation form himself falsely, reporting that his net worth was only $300,000. On Feb. 26, 2014, Tinkov filed a false 2013 individual tax return that falsely reported his income as only $205,317. In addition, Tinkov did not report any of the gain from the constructive sale of his property worth more than $1.1 billion, nor did he pay the applicable taxes as required by law. In total, Tinkov caused a tax loss of $248,525,339.

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