Saturday, July 29, 2017

Another Plea Agreement for Offshore Account (7/29/17; 7/30/17)

USAO CD CA announced here the plea by a plastic surgeon to one FBAR criminal count.  The relevant excerpts from the announcement are:
          According to the plea agreement filed in this case, while working as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, Mani began to travel to Dubai in 2011 to perform plastic surgery for a foreign medical center. Mani’s accountant, who was aware that Mani was earning foreign income, informed him that he would be required to report any foreign bank accounts under his ownership or control to the IRS. 
          In 2012, Mani opened a bank account with a financial institution based in Dubai and began depositing income he earned from abroad into this account. By February 2013, Mani’s foreign bank account held more than $400,000. However, Mani willfully failed to file a FBAR to disclose his foreign bank account for the calendar years 2012 and 2013. 
          In addition to failing to disclose his interest in his foreign bank account, Mani also failed to report on his federal income tax returns the vast majority of the approximately $1.28 million in foreign income he earned in Dubai for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The plea agreement is here.

JAT comments:

1.  The gravamen of the offenses outlined in the plea agreement and statement of facts is really tax crimes with the FBAR crime facilitating the tax crime.  For this reason, I am surprised that DOJ Tax would approve the FBAR plea.

2.  The plea agreement requires two FBAR penalties of $100,000 (pars. 5(f) and 5(g)).  (Note: I had initially missed one of the penalties and revised this comment accordingly because a reader named Kneave Riggall brought the extra FBAR penalty to my attention; thanks to Mr. Riggall.)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Peter Reilly on Conservation Easement Donations as Bullshit Tax Shelters (7/24/17)

Peter Reilly has a great write up on the conservation easement tax scam -- aka bullshit tax shelter (my description, not his) -- that has featured prominently in many recent cases and is the subject of Notice 2017-10, here.  Peter's write up is New IRS Scandal - Syndication Of Conservation Easement Deductions (Forbes/Taxes 7/24/17), here.  And  I have previously written on Notice 2017-10 in IRS Designates Syndications Exploiting Improper Valuations for Conservation Easement Deductions (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/2/17), here.

Bullshit tax shelters are built on one or two foundations (sometimes both) -- fake law and fake facts.  The bullshit conservation easement shelters often get the law right, but fail on the facts -- particularly the valuations.  I encourage readers to review Peter's article and then read the extra materials I offer below.

I particularly like Peter's Accounting View -- balancing of the books analysis -- to show the problem with the bullshit conservation easement shelters.  

I extend Peter's analysis because many bullshit tax shelters suffer that basic problem.  The seminal balancing of the books case is Commissioner v. Tufts, 461 U.S. 300 (1983).  The taxpayer acquired basis in property via a nonrecourse loan, used the basis for depreciation tax benefit, then surrendered the property and walked away from the nonrecourse loan.  Had that been a recourse loan, the taxpayer would have had to recognize cancellation of indebtedness income, thereby balancing his books for the deductions funded by the recourse loan.  But, the taxpayer argued, because it was a nonrecourse loan, he received no benefit from the the "relief" from  the nonrecourse loan and thus had no offsetting income entry from COD or otherwise.  In effect, the taxpayer was arguing for free deductions with no balancing of his books.  The Supreme Court in Tufts rejected the argument, but took an intermediate position that the nonrecourse loan was includible as an amount realized on a deemed sale of the property securing the nonrecourse loan.  So, the taxpayer could get a combination of deferral from the nonrecourse loan (based on the interim depreciation deductions) and conversion to capital gains.  That is not a bad tax shelter.  But, at least the Supreme Court required a balancing of the books, albeit at capital gains rates.

I am not certain whether Tufts was an overvaluation case in its inception -- i.e., the property securing the nonrecourse loan was overvalued and thus the nonrecourse loan was underwater all along, serving only to generate deductions that the taxpayer in Tufts tried to shelter by not balancing his tax books at the end.  But, many taxpayers before and after Tufts tried that gambit of the overvaluation of the property secured by nonrecourse loans.  At least Tufts required a balancing of the books.

Having been deeply involved in the BLIPS shelters (not as promoter or adviser or taxpayer but as litigator), I always thought that, even if one accepted the aggressive legal position taken about contingent debt when contributed to the partnership, there was a balancing of the books problem akin to what the Supreme Court required in Tufts.  Thus, having achieved the basis benefit fueled by the loan, albeit recourse, that ultimately went "poof," the taxpayer should have to balance his books with the offsetting taxable income.  The shelter opinions that I saw either ignored that or dissembled on it.  Of course, there was a problem at the inception of the analysis on contingent debt, but assuming that problem was cleared, then the back-end issue balancing issue was a problem.

At any rate, thanks to Peter Reilly for his analysis.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DC Circuit Reverses Preparer Conviction for Prosecutorial Misconduct (7/22/17)

I do not spend much time on this blog on return preparer fraud (or stolen identity refund fraud).  But, this case caught my attention United States v. Davis, ___ F.3d ___, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 13109 (DC Cir. 2017), here.  The reason it caught my attention was that the Court of Appeals found prosecutorial misconduct in the prosecutors' closing argument.  The prosecution was of a mother and a son involved in the return preparation business.

Here is the key part of the discussion:
To set the context for assessing Andre's contention that the court must reverse his convictions on both counts because of prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments, we summarize the relevant evidence, and this necessarily entails some overlap with our consideration of Andre's sufficiency challenge. The government's case against Andre as to both Count 1 and Count 19 was thin. See Part II.B, infra. Although the evidence established that Andre began working with his mother after graduating from college and that false tax returns were filed under the Davis Financial Services EFIN during this period, the evidence of Andre's knowing participation in Sherri's tax fraud scheme was equivocal, at best. LaDonna testified that she cautioned Andre against working for Sherri, but she did not specify why she thought doing so "wasn't a good idea." Trial Tr. 81 (Jan. 20, 2015 (pm)). Thomas Jaycox testified on direct examination that Andre had prepared his 2012 tax return, but qualified his testimony on cross-examination and redirect by clarifying that Sherri had, in fact, also "put[] information on" and "finalize[d]" his return after Andre had worked on it. Trial Tr. 47, 80 (Jan. 22, 2015 (am)). The evidence thus failed to establish who entered the false deductions into Jaycox's return; Sherri was just as, if not more, likely to have done so than Andre. The remaining evidence against Andre, such as Andre's name on the EFIN application and other documents, at most confirms only that he was engaged in operating a tax-preparation business, not that he had the specific intent to file false returns or otherwise knowingly joined Sherri's conspiracy to defraud the United States. 
Examination of the prosecutor's closing arguments reveals multiple misstatements of this evidence and, given the gaps in the government's evidentiary case, their prejudicial effect is readily apparent. For instance, the prosecutor told the jury that Andre personally designated the bank account into which tax preparation fees were deposited in 2013 and that Andre and Sherri made a "staggering amount of money" but failed to report such income in their individual tax returns. Trial Tr. 170 (Jan. 28, 2015). Even assuming that the first point is not false, because Andre's designation of the bank account might be viewed as a reasonable inference from the TaxWise evidence, there is no evidentiary basis for the second, nor does the government point to any on appeal. The evidence of earnings and income reporting related only to Sherri's receipt of fees and failure to accurately report her individual income to the IRS. There was no comparable evidence as to Andre. Not only was there no direct evidence Andre received fees for preparing and filing false returns, much less in "staggering amounts," as the prosecutor told the jury, Trial Tr. 170 (Jan. 28, 2015), there was no evidence Andre under-reported his individual income on his tax returns. Lumping Andre together with Sherri in this manner was clearly prejudicial to Andre. The prosecutor also misleadingly minimized Sherri's role in completing Jaycox's 2012 return, telling the jury that Sherri only "came over to make sure it was okay, or something to that effect," id. at 88, when Jaycox testified that Sherri "finalize[d]" his taxes and "finished everything else out" on his 2012 return. Trial Tr. 47, 80 (Jan. 22, 2015 (am)). 
Even more critically, the prosecutor blatantly misrepresented the evidence regarding Andre's mens rea. First, in the opening portion of his closing argument after asking the jury, "how do we know that the Defendant Andre Davis acted willfully," the prosecutor told the jury that LaDonna had told Andre about the criminal charges she was facing and that Andre had reassured her by saying, "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing." Trial Tr. 96 (Jan. 28, 2015). The prosecutor then told the jury: "So he knows. He knows that 2FT is under criminal investigation, but yet he continues to file. . . . He acted willfully with the specific intent to violate the law." Id. at 97. But this did not accurately recount LaDonna's testimony. Even now, the government's brief misstates that there was evidence LaDonna had told Andre about the criminal nature of the investigation in which she was involved. See Appellee Br. 17. In fact, LaDonna's account of the conversation never indicated that she had told Andre or that he was otherwise aware of the criminal nature of the IRS investigation of 2FT or that Sherri, rather than LaDonna alone, was implicated in it. Second, in rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor again asked "how do we know that these defendants were trying to commit fraud," and this time told the jury that it's because "[t]hey're photocopying Goodwill receipts and whiting them out . . . to have back-up documents to support the $47,000 and $50,000 deductions for Thomas Jaycox[.]" Id. at 170. But the evidence regarding the business providing clients with blank Goodwill or other charitable receipts pertained only to years prior to the time when Andre began working with his mother and his tenure at Davis Financial Services. Jaycox brought his own receipts in 2012. The government's response on appeal, that the "Sherri or Andre" statement is technically true, because Sherri provided blank Goodwill receipts, rings hollow; the government tarred Andre with evidence that it implicitly acknowledges had nothing to do with him. See Appellee Br. 46.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another Person Indicted for Offshore Accounts (7/20/17)

DOJ Tax has announced here the indictment of Teymour Khoubian for tax obstruction, tax perjury, false FBARs and false statements.  The description of the allegations from news release is:
The indictment charges that from 2006 through 2014, Teymour Khoubian impeded the administration of the internal revenue laws. According to the indictment, Khoubian filed false individual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax years 2005 through 2010 that did not report his financial interest in multiple Israeli and German bank accounts or the interest income that he earned from those accounts. He also allegedly falsely claimed refundable tax credits to which he was not entitled, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is intended for low-to moderate-income working individuals. In 2008, Khoubian is alleged to have held approximately $20 million in assets in his undisclosed accounts. The indictment charges that Khoubian also filed a false 2011 tax return that underreported the interest income he earned from his Israeli accounts and continued to fail to disclose that he held an account in Germany. Khoubian is also alleged to have filed false 2012 and 2013 Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts forms (FBARs) with the U.S. Department of Treasury that concealed his German account. U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and permanent legal residents with a foreign financial interest in or signatory authority over a foreign financial account worth more than $10,000 are required to file an FBAR disclosing the account. 
In addition to filing false tax returns and FBARs, Khoubian allegedly provided his German bank with a copy of his Iranian passport and a residential address located in Israel to prevent the bank from disclosing the account to the IRS. He also allegedly sent a letter to Bank Leumi falsely claiming he was living in Iran when, in fact, he resided in Beverly Hills, California. 
Khoubian is also charged with making false statements to an IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) special agent – denying that he owned an account in Germany between 2005 and 2010, stating that the German account was closed, when it was in fact still open, and stating that the funds had been transferred to the United States, when Khoubian had allegedly transferred over $600,000 from his German account to his accounts in Israel.
If convicted, Khoubian faces a statutory maximum sentence of three years in prison for corruptly endeavoring to impede the internal revenue laws and each count of filing a false return and five years in prison for each count of filing a false FBAR and making a false statement. He also faces a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.
 My only reaction is that, assuming the truth of allegation of the size of the accounts, this guy had real chutzpah to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Court Dismisses Claims Where IRS Issued JDS Without Required Court Approval for JDS (7/20/17)

In Hohman v. United States, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106439 (ED MI 2017), here, the district court finally dismissed a case where the plaintiffs sued on various claims arising from the IRS's service of John Doe Summonses on a bank.  The thing that caught my attention was that, prior to serving the JDSs on the bank, the IRS did not obtain the predicate court order required by § 7609(f), here.   The summonses are here and here.

My reaction was: "Wow!"

So, I pulled up some of the documents from Pacer, the online system to review and download court documents.  I have limited time that I can devote to these interesting issues, so here is what I picked up in the time allowed.  The documents reviewed are:

1.  The docket entries (as of today), here.
2.  Government Brief on Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 12), here.
3.  IRS Agent Affidavit (Exhibit to Government Brief (Dkt.12 Exh), here.
4.  Order (Dkt27), here.
5.  Final Order (Dkt45), here.

I could not find quickly an adequate explanation for why the IRS agents involved issued the two JDSs without court approval.  I could only find that they did.   On the face of the summonses, they were issued by a revenue agent and approved by a group manager.  The revenue agent's affidavit did not explain why the summonses were issued without court approval, but did say that the limited production was not reviewed because, by the time of delivery, the IRS was aware of a problem.

The following is what the Government said in an early brief in the case:
The first John Doe summons was issued on September 25, 2015. ¶ 34. The second John Doe summons was issued on September 30, 2015. ¶ 54. Copies of the two summonses are attached hereto as Exhibits 1 and 2.2 
The summonses requested signature cards, monthly checking account statements, and cancelled checks for specified account numbers (which have been redacted). Exs. 1, 2. Both summonses were issued “in the matter of John Doe,” id., and neither identified any “person with respect to whose liability” it was issued, § 7609(f). In keeping with John Doe summons procedures, the IRS did not give notice to the then-unknown account holders, which turned out to be plaintiffs. Nonetheless, Ms. Hohman and Jhoman learned about the summons of September 25, 2015, from the bank (Compl. ¶ 38) and filed a petition to quash the summons in this court on November 25, 2015 (¶ 51), see Case No. 2:15-mc-51669-VAR-APP.  
To address concerns raised in the petition, the IRS agent who had issued both summonses gave a sworn declaration to counsel for Ms. Hohman and Jhohman (Complaint ¶ 52) dated January 4, 2016, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit 3.4 The declaration stated that the agent withdrew both summonses via letters dated December 17, 2015 (Ex. 3 ¶¶ 9, 13), copies of which were attached to the declaration and are also attached hereto as Exhibits 4 and 5. The declaration added that none of the materials received in response to the first summons were reviewed by the IRS (Ex. 3 ¶¶ 5-8). The IRS never received any materials in response to the second summons. Id. ¶ 13. Apparently satisfied, Ms. Hohman and Jhoman voluntarily dismissed their petition the next day on January 5, 2016. 
Nonetheless, three months later plaintiffs filed the instant four-count complaint against the United States5, the IRS agent who issued the summonses (C. Mei Chung), and her manager (Maurice Eadie). Count One seeks damages under the Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA), 12 U.S.C. § 3401 et seq. Count Two seeks damages under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Count Three seeks damages, as well as injunctive and declaratory relief, against both the individual IRS employees named as defendants and the United States for alleged constitutional violations. Count Four seeks damages under 26 U.S.C. § 7431.
The Court ultimately dismissed all counts.  The principal issue thrashed around by the court related to Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA), 12 U.S.C. § 3401, et seq.  I am not particularly interested in that issue, so I refer readers who are to the court orders for its analysis.  I am interested in the IRS's failure to obtain court orders for the JDSs.  What is the story there?  I am not sure that I have an adequate answer to that broad question.  I do have some more specific questions. I will just list them below and provide some answers if I can give them or reasonably speculate about them.

Credit Suisse Banker Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy (7/20/17)

DOJ Tax announced here the guilty plea by Susanne D. Rüegg Meier, a former Credit Suisse AG banker, for conspiracy.  I link the Plea Agreement here, the Statement of Facts here and the docket entries as of today here.  I previously reported on the indictment here:  Criminal Charges for More Swiss Bank Enablers (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/21/11), here.  It is unclear where she has been in the meantime, but my spreadsheet indicates (accurately or not) that she was a fugitive, presumably because a Swiss citizen and resident who chose to stay away from the U.S. after the indictment.  There is no indication as to why she returned now

The key parts of the announcement are:
According to the statement of facts and the plea agreement, Susanne D. Rüegg Meier, admitted that from 2002 through 2011, while working as the team head of the Zurich Team of Credit Suisse’s North American desk in Switzerland, she 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. Rüegg Meier was responsible for supervising the servicing of accounts involving over 1,000 to 1,500 client relationships. She was also personally responsible for handling the accounts of approximately 140 to 150 clients, about 95 percent of whom were U.S. persons residing primarily in New York, Chicago and Florida, which held assets under management totaling approximately $400 million. Rüegg Meier admitted that the tax loss associated with her criminal conduct was between $3.5 and $9.5 million. 
Rüegg Meier assisted many U.S. clients in utilizing their Credit Suisse accounts to evade their U.S. income taxes and to facilitate concealment of their undeclared financial accounts from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She took the following steps to assist clients in hiding their Swiss accounts: retaining in Switzerland all mail related to the account; structuring withdrawals in the forms of multiple checks each payable in amounts less than $10,000 that were sent by courier to clients in the United States and arranging for U.S. customers to withdraw cash from their Credit Suisse accounts at Credit Suisse locations outside Switzerland, such as the Bahamas. Moreover, Rüegg Meier admitted that approximately 20 to 30 of her 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 other structures that were frequently created in the form of foreign partnerships, trusts, corporations or foundations. 
Between 2002 and 2008, Rüegg Meier traveled approximately twice per year to the United States to meet with clients. Among other places, Rüegg Meier met clients in the Credit Suisse New York representative office. To prepare for the trips, Rüegg Meier would obtain “travel” account statements that contained no Credit Suisse logos or customer information, as well as business cards that bore no Credit Suisse logos and had an alternative street address for her office, in order to assist her in concealing the nature and purpose of her business. 
After Credit Suisse began closing U.S. customers’ accounts in 2008, Rüegg Meier assisted the clients in keeping their assets concealed. For example, when one U.S. customer was informed that the bank planned to close his account, Rüegg Meier assisted the customer in closing the account by withdrawing approximately $1 million in cash. Rüegg Meier advised the client to find another bank simply by walking along the street in Zurich and locating a bank that would be willing to open an account for the client. The customer placed the cash into a paper bag and exited the bank. Rüegg Meier also recommended that a few U.S. clients open new accounts at other specific banks, such as Bank Frey and Wegelin & Co., and transfer their assets from their Credit Suisse accounts to the new accounts. 
Credit Suisse pleaded guilty in May 2014 for conspiring to aid and assist taxpayers in filing false returns, and was sentenced in November 2014 to pay more than $2 billion in fines and restitution.
JAT comments:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Second Circuit Decision Applying Fifth Amendment to Foreign Compelled Testimony (7/19/17)

The Second Circuit issued an important decision today dealing with the use -- directly or indirectly -- of testimony compelled by a foreign government in a U.S. criminal case.  United States v. Allen, ___ F.3d ___ (2017), here. This is not a tax prosecution, but the holding could apply in all U.S. prosecutions, tax or otherwise, where foreign compelled testimony is used.

The opinion is very long and very good.  The Court's summary of the opinion is:
 This case—the first criminal appeal related to the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) to reach this (or any) Court of Appeals—presents the question, among others, whether testimony given by an individual involuntarily under the legal compulsion of a foreign power may be used against that individual in a criminal case in an American court. As employees in the London office of Coöperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen‐Boerenleenbank B.A. in the 2000s, defendants‐appellants Anthony Allen and Anthony Conti (“Defendants”) played roles in that bank’s LIBOR submission process  during the now‐well‐documented heyday of the rate’s manipulation. Defendants, each a resident and citizen of the United Kingdom, and both of whom had earlier given compelled testimony in that country, were tried and convicted in the United States before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Jed S. Rakoff, Judge) for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.
While this appeal raises a number of substantial issues, we address only the Fifth Amendment issue, and conclude as follows.   
First, the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on the use of compelled testimony in American criminal proceedings applies even when a foreign sovereign has compelled the testimony.    
Second, when the government makes use of a witness who had substantial exposure to a defendant’s compelled testimony, it is required under Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441 (1972), to prove, at a minimum, that the witness’s review of the compelled testimony did not shape, alter, or affect the evidence used by the government.   
Third, a bare, generalized denial of taint from a witness who has materially altered his or her testimony after being substantially exposed to a defendant’s compelled testimony is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain the prosecution’s burden of proof. 
Fourth, in this prosecution, Defendants’ compelled testimony was “used” against them, and this impermissible use before the petit and grand juries was not harmless beyond a resonable doubt. 
Accordingly, we REVERSE the judgments of conviction and hereby DISMISS the indictment

Offshore Account Tax and Bank Fraud Conspiracy Sentencing (7/19/17)

USAO MDFL announced here the sentencing of a Florida businessman, Casey Padula, for conspiring to commit tax and bank fraud.  The sentence is 57 months in prison.  I previously reported on the guilty plea here.  The pattern is a familiar one.  Padula conspired with others to divert money from his U.S. business, thus avoiding tax, into foreign accounts.  The foreign accounts were in Belize and were owned by two nominal foreign corporations.  Padula also conspired with with investment advisors Joshua VanDyk and Eric St-Cyr, who helped them establish a numbered account.  In addition to the tax fraud, Padula committed bank fraud along with another who made a sham purchase of his home secured by a mortgage allegedly under water.  For previous posts mentioning VanDyk and St-Cyr, see here.  The co-conspirator on the bank fraud conspiracy was sentenced to five years probation.

There is no indication in the press release about any potential FBAR penalty.

Friday, July 14, 2017

D.C. Circuit Rejects Injunction End-Run by OVDP Taxpayers Seeking Streamlined Procedures Relief (7/14/17)

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an attempt by participants in OVDP before the more robust Streamlined Procedures opportunity was announced in 2014.  Maze v. United States, ___ F.3d ___ (D.C. Cir. 2017), here.  They were relegated to the transition relief which, if nonwillful, would have qualified them for transition treatment reducing the miscellaneous offshore penalty ("MOP"), but would not relieve them from the eight years of income tax, penalty and interest on both required by OVDP.  By contrast, the new Streamlined Procedures would have require only 3 years of income tax and interest, with no accuracy related penalties.

I always thought the transition opportunity was unfair to those who got into OVDP rather than waited.  Taxpayers were rewarded for holding out.  But often life is unfair and taxes are not fair.

The plaintiffs in this action thought this was unfair as well and brought suit to compel the IRS to treat them under the Streamlined Procedures.  They ran squarely into the prohibition against injunctions in § 7421(a), often called the Anti-Injunction Act ("AIA").  Basically, the AIA prevents suits in any form which have the effect of enjoining the IRS in its tax enforcement and collection activities.  This particular suit failed for that reason.

I don't know that there is anything else to really say about this, except, if the taxpayers involved in the suit really were nonwillful, they could opt out of OVDP, take the audit and get an appropriate civil cost (tax, penalty and interest) result that way.  All of their income tax years would be subject to the normal statute of limitations (usually three years, with an exception for substantial omission or fraud (with the fraud unlmited statute not apply if they were nonwillful)).

Indeed, the design of the Streamlined Procedures, as I understand it, was to roughly give nonwillful taxpayers the result they could obtain by joining OVDP and opting out.  True, joining OVDP and opting out of the OVDP penalty structure involves commotion not encountered in Streamlined Procedures but, if taxpayers with a good story to tell (which is a requirement for Streamlined Procedures) can tell the good story in the opt out of OVDP penalty structure and achieve, in broad strokes, a more or  less similar result.  (Note there is some fuzziness there.) And, by staying in OVDP and just opting out of the OVDP penalty structure they get some marginal assurance of no criminal prosecution.

This story reminded me about Jesus' parable of the workers.  The taxpayers in Maze got what they bargained for -- the OVDP and the opportunity to opt out if dissatisfied.  So, too, the workers in Jesus' parable which can be read in Matthew 20:1-16, here.  In the parable, it is an equal reward that causes the problem for the early workers as compared to the late workers, but on an hourly basis, the late workers get paid a lot more for waiting than the early workers.  In the Streamlined Procedures, the late joiners get benefits not allowed the early joiners.  But, in both cases, they get what they bargained for.  (Actually, the early OVDP joiners got the benefit of Streamlined MOP by transitioning.)  What is the complaint?  (Having said that, I have already said that I thought excluding people in OVDP from the Streamlined Procedures benefits -- both income tax and MOP -- is unfair for reasons other than that the OVDP participants shut out of Streamlined Procedures did not get the deal -- even better deal -- they accepted in joining OVDP.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Klein Conspiracy in the NonTax Crimes News (7/13/17)

I don't see the Klein conspiracy raised often in the popular press.  So, I was surprised to see it here.   Spencer Ackerman and Betsy Woodruff, ‘Dopey’ Donald Trump Jr. Just Might Be Saved by His Own Ignorance (DailyBeast 7/11/17), here.  And, Another article taking off the Daily Beast article is TRUE BLUE REPORT: I learned a new term today—Republicons are the KLEIN CONSPIRACY PARTY, here.

I assume most readers are now aware about the news buzz of an additional Russian off-the-radar screen connection for the Trump Administrations -- Donald Trump Jr.'s emails and meeting with a Russian Lawyer allegedly close to the Putin Kremlin.  So, what does the known information mean in the real world.  Well, on its face, perhaps not much in a traditional crimes sense (for the crimes commonly known).  But that is where the broad sweep of the defraud conspiracy under 18 USC § 371 comes in.  The Klein conspiracy is often a shorthand for the defraud conspiracy, but I use the term in a narrower sense to mean the defraud conspiracy related to impairing or impeding the lawful function of the IRS.  Klein was a tax defraud conspiracy case.  United States v. Klein, 247 F.2d 908 (2d Cir. 1957).  For any readers that my be interested in my views on my concerns with the potential scope of the defraud conspiracy in a tax setting and its companion tax obstruction crime, § 7212(a), much in the tax crimes news lately, see:  John A. Townsend, Tax Obstruction Crimes: Is Making the IRS's Job Harder Enough, 9 Hous. Bus. & Tax. L.J. 255, 334-335 (2009)).

At any rate, back to DJT, Jr.  Here is the relevant portion of the Daily Beast article referring to Barbara McQuade, who, until Trump took office, was the U.S. attorney for Eastern Michigan:
McQuade, however, thinks the emails indicate that the younger Trump could be guilty of a so-called “Klein conspiracy,” which makes it a crime to “defraud the United States.” 
“It doesn’t have to any monetary value,” McQuade said. “It could be defrauding the U.S. government in honest elections.” 
But then comes another twist. The younger Trump would have to “knowingly and wilfully violate” a known legal duty, and “his lawyer will say he had no idea” the intended transaction – which Donald Trump Junior thus far denies actually occurred – was illegal. In this case, Mariotti said, ignorance of the law can be an excuse.
This Klein conspiracy and the tax obstruction counterpart has been much addressed on this blog and in my article linked above.  The Government's imagination -- at least claims -- about the defraud conspiracy is that it is broader than the tax crimes requiring willfulness -- specific intent to violate a known legal duty, the Cheek test of willfulness.  All the defendant has to do, in the Government narrative, is to impair or impede the lawful function of the Government agency.  And the list of things that can do that -- thus criminalized -- is virtually anything the  mind can imagine that would have a likely effect of ever so slightly impairing a Government agency in whatever it is doing within the scope of its responsibility.

Focusing on the DJT, Jr., episode as reported in the credible press I read -- DJT, Sr. would say the fake press -- does not clearly indicate that the emails in question and the meeting in question would rise to the level of a defraud conspiracy.  But we know only part of the story.  And, if there were any agreement among the Trump affiliated persons attending or aware of the meeting to keep it quiet from relevant Government agencies (say FBI and the agencies vetting the security clearances of the attendees), well, there we have the elements of the defraud conspiracy.

But, the saving grace in terms of ultimately knowing what happened and its legality is that we have a cop on the beat -- Mueller who has integrity and determination to get to the bottom and prosecute those who may have violated the law.  Let's trust the integrity of the process.

In the meantime, I do have concerns about the defraud / Klein conspiracy as I note in  my article and its solo companion, tax obstruction under § 7212(a), that the Supreme Court will address in the case it accepted for certiorari in Marinello.  We all just need to stay tuned.

Bench Trial Convictions on Offshore Business Insurance Scams (7/13/17)

Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson, Sr., promoters of a bogus insurance tax evasion scheme commonly referred to as BPP, have been convicted after a bench trial in Florida.  I attach here the order of the judge's Foreword, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

I have previously written on this prosecution in Two Tax Crimes Cases on Plea Rejections After Previously Accepted (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 6/10/16), here.  That describes a detour in the case as the parties dispute the components of the tax loss based on the guilty plea to one count.  The defendants' lawyers apparently did not understand the notion of relevant conduct, which includes all relevant conduct whether from a convicted count or not.  So the plea was rejected and the parties went to trial.

I will not get into the details of the scam they promoted, because the judge lays all of that out in the order.  I do think it helpful to for flavor to offer the judge's Foreword:

The United States accuses two men, along with several unindicted conspirators, of hatching and implementing a plot to convert into an intoxicating profit for themselves the aspirations of their high-income customers to protect that high income from federal taxation. So far as the evidence shows, the taxpayers in this venture were mostly honest, educated, and experienced professionals and entrepreneurs, who retained lawyers, accountants, and other skilled advisers to ensure both the effectiveness and the lawfulness of the taxpayers’ management of money. Consistent with the considered judgment of their advisers, these taxpayers purchased at a steep cost a set of fantastical and superfluous “insurance” policies and in return re-captured control of cash equal to about 85% of the premium paid for each policy. In other words, the taxpayers accepted the notion that they could reduce the effective, maximum, marginal-income tax rate from about 40% to about 15% by signing a few papers and moving money from here to there, from there to who knows where, and then back again. 
That these mostly honest, educated, and experienced taxpayers and their savvy advisers believed in, and committed money to, this criminal scam presents an irrefutable and deafening reminder of the extent of the public’s cynicism toward the federal income tax code — a bloated and opaque monstrosity. In other words, as the present episode evidences, almost no financial scheme is so suspicious or so implausible that a good salesman cannot convince an honest and vigilant taxpayer that the Internal Revenue Service is prepared to award tax relief to a participant. But for the adulteration of the public’s regard for the Internal Revenue Code, the charged crime might have been impractical for the compelling reason that no fair-minded and honorable person would have thought for a moment that the scheme would succeed.  
Apparently, when the subject under consideration is the federal income tax code, no enormity is unthinkable and no promise is unutterable.
JAT Comments:

1.  From my prior blog linked above, it appears clear the defendants through their counsel made, in hindsight, a bad call to spat about whether relevant conduct is included in the Guidelines tax loss calculation.  The Guidelines loss for all relevant counts of conviction is not provided, but the maximum sentence for the counts of conviction is 11 years -- 5 years for conspiracy and 6 years for aiding and assisting (two counts for 3 year felonies).  My sense is that the tax loss including relevant conduct may be pretty high and will likely exceed three years, so that the sentencing exposure almost surely will exceed the maximum three years they could have achieved under the negotiated plea.  But, the defendants and their lawyers chose to assert -- inadvisedly, against the clear law -- that relevant conduct could not be included in the Guidelines calculation.  (Students and practitioners should note that this the inclusion of unconvicted relevant conduct is the reason the Government will sometimes agree to drop counts in a plea bargain.)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On Conflicts, Certiorari and Marinello (7/1/17)

I posted a blog entry Tuesday on the Supreme Court’s grant of the petition for writ of certiorari in  United States v. Marinello, 839 F.3d 209, 218 (2d Cir. 2016).  See Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Marinello Involving Whether § 7212(a)'s Omnibus Clause Requires Knowledge of Pending Investigation (6/27/17), here.

I thought some readers might want some more discussion of intercircuit conflicts as a basis for certiorari.  From my personal observation standpoint (originally with DOJ Tax Appellate Section and then in the Trial Section and thereafter in private practice and as an academic on tax crimes keenly interested in Supreme Court practice), an intercircuit conflict is, as noted in the article below, the "best predictor of Supreme Court review."  The immediate context is, of course, the conflict between the Second Circuit in Marinello and the Sixth Circuit in  United States v. Kassouf, 144 F.3d 952 (1998).  The other Circuits deciding the issue have sided with the reasoning of the Second Circuit in Marinello and rejected the reasoning in Kassouf.  Kassouf is a lone-wolf holding. Since Kassouf was decided in 1998, the Sixth Circuit has narrowed its apparent scope but has not reversed it or cast serious doubt other than what might be inferred from its narrowing of Kassouf, to join with the other Circuits deciding the issue.  So, at this time, on this issue, the law in the Sixth Circuit is different than in the other Circuits that have addressed the issue.

Often, when the consensus of other Circuits moves against a holding in one Circuit, the outlier Circuit will reverse course, thereby assuring uniformity among the Circuits and avoiding the need for the Supreme Court to resolve the conflict.  The process of allowing other Circuits to speak to the issue (referred to in the excerpts below as “percolating”) allows the issue to be fully vetted by the time the Supreme Court does have to resolve by certiorari if the conflict persists.  But the Sixth Circuit has had several opportunities to reverse course or at least indicate disapproval or concern with the Kassouf holding and, while narrowing the potential scope of Kassouf, has declined to reverse course.

Here is what the Government said on that issue in opposing certiorari by holding out the possibility that the Sixth Circuit itself will fix the problem:
The court of appeals’ decision is consistent with the interpretation of Section 7212(a) adopted by most other courts of appeals and does not conflict with any decision of this Court. Although the Sixth Circuit reached a different conclusion in United States v. Kassouf, 144 F.3d 952 (1998), that court has vacillated in its approach to Section 7212(a) over the years and has not yet had an appropriate opportunity to reconsider Kassouf ’s holding in an en banc proceeding. This  Court has repeatedly denied other petitions raising the same issue. Nothing supports a different result in this case. 
Well, nothing except the persistence of the Sixth Circuit decision as an outlier so that the law is different in the Sixth Circuit than in the other Circuits.  (And perhaps a side note, the Government could have forced the issue by bringing an indictment on the same basis it indicts in other Circuits, which the district court would dismiss on the authority of Kassouf, the Government could appeal, the panel on appeal would affirm dismissal on the authority of Kassouf, and the Government could then ask for en banc review, whereupon the Sixth Circuit could resolve the conflict by overturning Kassouf or, if the Sixth Circuit persisted by denying en banc review or, on en banc review, affirming its holding in Kassouf, asking the Supreme Court to resolve the then clearly persistent conflict; there might be some prudential reasons to avoid bringing a single count indictment like that, so perhaps it a really bad-actor case could be chosen with several counts, which would slow down the issue getting to the Sixth Circuit.)

I thought readers who are interested might benefit from this recent scholarly article analyzing a significant original dataset of Circuit Court conflicts and the issue of whether and when Supreme Court review to resolve the conflicts is appropriate.

Deborah Beim and Kelly Rader, Evolution of Conflict in the Federal Circuit Courts (Yale University 3/19/15), here.  Here are some excerpts (footnotes omitted):