Saturday, December 28, 2019

More on Abusive Conservation Easements (12/28/19)

Peter Reilly has a good discussion on an abusive conservation easement.  IRS Grinch Ruining Christmas For Syndicated Conservation Easements (Forbes 12/24/19), here.  The fatal flaw in such easements is the valuations (dare I say bullshit valuations).  These are just variations of many shelters in the 1970s and early 1980s where the fatal flaw was the valuations.  They are therefore just a variation of bullshit tax shelters when the crux of the shelter is major overvaluations.

Peter points to the IRS News Release, IR-2019-213, here, Excerpts from the release:
On Dec. 13, 2019, the U.S. Tax Court entered its first decision on a syndicated conservation easement transaction. In TOT Property Holdings, LLC v. Commissioner, Docket No. 005600-17, the Tax Court sustained in its entirety the IRS's determination that all tax benefits from a syndicated conservation easement transaction should be denied and that the 40% gross valuation misstatement and negligence penalties applied. The Tax Court found that the transaction failed the legal requirements applicable to donations of land easements and, in imposing the gross valuation misstatement penalty, found that the actual value of the easement donation was less than 10 percent of what was originally reported on the tax return. 
"In denying the deductions and upholding the 40% gross valuation misstatement penalty, the Tax Court confirmed that aggressive syndicated easement transactions simply will not survive scrutiny," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "We will not stop in our coordinated pursuit of these abusive transactions while seeking the imposition of all available civil penalties and, when appropriate, various criminal options for those involved." 
"If you engaged in any questionable syndicated conservation easement transaction, you should immediately consult an independent, competent tax advisor to consider your best available options," Rettig added.
Peter's posts are usually very good, and this is not exception.

Also, in a related development, in United States v. Zak (N.D. Ga. Dkt. 18-cv-05774-AT Order dated 12/10/19, here), the Court considered a government suit against allegedly abusive shelter promoters.  The Court rejects the defendants' motions, except for one count against Zak which is dismissed without prejudice.

Key excerpts from the Order are (emphases supplied by JAT):
"The Government alleges that defendants ran a “conservation easement syndication scheme.'"
* * * * 
The Government laid out eleven discrete steps that represent the “general pattern” the defendants took in enacting their conservation easement offerings. (Doc. 1 at 18–22.) In brief, according to the Government, the defendants first formed an LLC to take ownership of a piece of land, then hired an appraiser to provide an appraisal of the land, which would be used later in tax filings. (Id. at 18–19.) The defendants then marketed ownership interests in the LLC – whose value is derived only from the possible future tax benefit of converting the land to a conservation easement – to wealthy persons who may seek to maximize their tax benefits. (Id. at 19–20.) The marketing of the LLC clearly explains how the conservation easement might benefit a person in a particular tax bracket by reducing his or her tax burden substantially. (Id.) Once all stakes are sold, the LLC designates the land as a conservation easement, finalizes the appraisal of the land’s value, and prepares its own tax return. (Id. at 20–21.) The LLC is formed as a pass-through entity, so the sizable tax benefit it incurs for designation of the land is then passed through it to the investors themselves. (Id. at 16.) The investors list the conservation easement tax burden on their personal income tax returns, reducing their own tax liability. (Id. at 21–22.)

In Willful FBAR Collection Suit, District Court Rejects Reconsideration of Finding of FBAR Willfulness As Discovery Sanction (12/28/19)

In an earlier Memorandum and Order in United States v. Toth (D. Mass. Dkt. No. 15-cv-13367-ADB 10/15/18), GS here and CL here, the district court imposed sanctions against the defendant in an FBAR collection suit for discovery deficiencies.  The sanctions were (from the Conclusions of the Memorandum and Order (emphasis supplied by JAT):
For the reasons explained above, the Government's amended motion for sanctions is GRANTED and it is hereby ORDERED that the following facts are taken as established for purposes of this litigation:
1. Defendant had legal control over, and the legal authority to direct the disposition of the funds in, the Account (and any sub-accounts), by investing the funds, withdrawing the funds, and/or transferring the funds to third-parties, between the date the Account was opened and at least December 31, 2008.
2. Should the United States establish that Defendant is liable for the penalty alleged in the complaint, for the purposes of calculating the amount of such penalty, the Account (and any sub-accounts) contained $4,347,407 as of the penalty-calculation date.
3. Defendant had a legal obligation to timely file an FBAR regarding the Account in each calendar year that the Account was open, including with regard to calendar year 2007.
4. Defendant willfully failed to file an FBAR regarding the Account with respect to calendar year 2007.
The Government may file an itemized statement of costs and attorney's fees documenting the costs and fees that it incurred in preparing the amended motion for sanctions within 30 days of this order, should it wish to recover fees and costs.
SO ORDERED.
A key fact in this debacle was that the defendant represented herself pro se up to the date of the Memorandum and Order.  After that Memorandum and Order, the defendant engaged counsel, but apparently even then the defendant’s compliance with discovery fell short.

In United States v. Toth (D. Mass. Dkt. No. 15-cv-13367-ADB 12/20/19), GS here and CL here here, the district court rejected the defendant’s motion for reconsideration (erroneously styled a motion to vacate) of the original Memorandum and Order.  What comes through from this Memorandum and Order (as well as the prior one) was that the court was frustrated with the defendant’s continuing obfuscation.

A review of the docket entries at Court Listener (CL), here, should give some sense of the court's frustrations.

Key excerpts from the current Memorandum and Order are:

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Tax Perjury, § 7206(1) Is a Different Crime than Perjury, 18 USC § 1621 (12/25/19)

Yesterday, I was updating the working draft of my Federal Tax Procedure Book, here, for the 2020 editions to make a point about § 7206(1) here, which I and others call “tax perjury.”  See e.g., DOJ CTM 12.03 Generally, here (“Section 7206(1) is referred to as the “tax perjury statute,” because it makes the falsehood itself a crime.”) I added the caveat that tax perjury in § 7206(1) is not the crime of perjury, 18 USC § 1621.  The CTM thus cautions that “Although referred to as the ‘tax perjury statute,’ Section 7206(1) prosecutions are not perjury prosecutions.”  CTM 12.09[2] Law Of Perjury Does Not Apply To Section 7206(1) Prosecutions.  Thus features critical to perjury prosecutions (such as the two-witness rule and no corporate criminal liability) do not apply to § 7206(1) prosecutions.

In addressing this point, I discuss in a footnote Siravo v. United States, 377 F.2d 469 (1st Cir. 1967), here.  In Siravo , the defendant argued that § 7206(1) was not a perjury statute, because perjury requires false affirmative statements and the omission of income is not a false affirmative statement.  The Court held that the language of the jurat did cover such omissions because the jurat states that it is signed under penalty of perjury and the taxpayer attests under penalty of perjury that the return is true and correct, so that omitted income was clearly within the scope of the statement made under penalty of perjury covers omissions from the return (the Court treated the word "complete" in the jurat as superfluous to “true and correct”).  “Therefore, the government has made out a violation of the section, whether it be labelled a perjury statute or similar in nature,”  (Pp. 762-473 (cleaned up).  See also United States v. Cohen, 544 F. 2d 781, 783 (5th Cir. 1977) (cleaned up) (“The omission of a material fact [assets from the OIC] renders such a statement just as much not ‘true and correct’ within the meaning of§ 7206(1), as the inclusion of a materially false fact, Siravo v. United States, 377 F.2d 469 (1st Cir. 1967)."


Saturday, December 21, 2019

On Informing the Jury of Jury Nullification and Sentencing Consequences (12/21/19; 12/22/19)

In United States v. Manzano, ___ F.3d ___ (2d Cir. 2019), here (2d Cir.) or here (Google Scholar), a nontax case, the Second Circuit addressed issues of jury nullification and instructing the jury as to the sentencing consequences of guilty verdicts.  Those are big issues that surface sometimes in nontax crimes cases but rarely in tax crimes cases.  They could surface in tax crimes cases and tax crimes practitioners should be aware of the issue so that they can “surface” the issues when they need to.

In Manzano, the Court’s unofficial summary is:
On the eve of trial, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Underhill, Chief Judge) ruled that Respondent – who is charged with, [*2] inter alia, production of child pornography, an offense punishable by a mandatory minimum term of fifteen years’ imprisonment – could argue jury nullification at trial.  The district court also reserved decision on whether evidence of sentencing consequences would be admissible.  The government now petitions for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to preclude defense counsel from arguing nullification and to exclude any evidence of sentencing consequences.  We hold that the conditions for mandamus relief are satisfied with respect to the district court’s nullification ruling, but not with respect to the admissibility of evidence of sentencing consequences.  Thus, we grant in part and deny in part the petition. 
So, let’s start with the concept of jury nullification.  As I understand in broad strokes and without nuance, the concept of jury nullification is is that a jury, normally in our system serving solely the role of fact finder (did the defendant factually do the acts that the law describes as a crime), can choose not to return a verdict of guilty because it has concerns about the law or the application of the law to the case at hand.  The jury believes that the prescribed punishment for the crime does not fit the culpability of the defendant.  (Or as the more humane Mikado says (Gilbert & Sullivan, here) the punishment should fit the crime.) More nuanced discussion can be found in Clay S. Conrad, Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine (Cato Institute 2014), here.  A reasonable summary can be found in Wikipedia’s entry on Jury Nullification here.

Moving to Manzano, the relevant facts are succinctly stated by the Court (Slip Op. 4):

Friday, December 20, 2019

Coutts & Co. Ltd. Enters an Addendum to its Swiss Bank Program Category 2 NPA (12/20/19)

I previously reported that Coutts & Co. Ltd. (“Coutts”) had entered a NonProsecution Agreement (“NPA”) with DOJ Tax under the DOJ Swiss Bank Program.  Five More Banks Obtain NPAs under DOJ Swiss Bank Program (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 12/23/15), here.  Under the original NPA, Coutts paid $74.5 million (rounded) in penalties.  DOJ Tax announced today here that Coutts has entered an addendum to the NPA after disclosing additional, previously undisclosed, accounts and agreeing to pay an additional $27.9 million, for a combined penalty amount of $102.4 million (rounded).

The key excerpts are (emphasis supplied):
The Department of Justice announced today that it has signed an Addendum to a non-prosecution agreement with Coutts & Co Ltd. (Coutts), a private Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich.  The original non-prosecution agreement was signed on Dec. 23, 2015. At that time, Coutts reported that it held and managed 1,337 U.S. related accounts, with assets under management exceeding $2 billion, and paid a penalty of $78,484,000. In reaching today’s agreement, Coutts acknowledges that it should have disclosed additional U.S.-related accounts to the Department at the time of the signing of the non-prosecution agreement. 
“This agreement reflects our commitment to ensuring that foreign banks that participated in the Swiss Bank Program fully comply with their obligations to disclose accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have direct or indirect interests,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “When any person or entity makes false, incomplete, or misleading disclosures to the Department, the Department will hold those persons or entities accountable.” 
The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on Aug. 29, 2013, provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States relating to offshore banking services provided to United States taxpayers. Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the Department by Dec. 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. As participants in the program, they were required to make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities, provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers had a direct or indirect interest, cooperate in treaty requests for account information, and provide detailed information about the transfer of funds into and out of U.S.-related accounts, including undeclared accounts, that identifies the sending and receiving banks involved in the transactions. 
The Department executed non-prosecution agreements with 80 banks between March 2015 and January 2016. The Department imposed a total of more than $1.36 billion in Swiss Bank Program penalties.  Pursuant to today’s agreement, Coutts will pay an additional sum of $27,900,000 and will provide supplemental information regarding its U.S.-related account population, which now includes 311 additional accounts.  
Every bank that signed a non-prosecution agreement in the Swiss Bank Program had represented that it had disclosed all known U.S.-related accounts that were open at each bank between Aug. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2014.  Each bank also represented that it would, during the term of the non-prosecution agreement, continue to disclose all material information relating to its U.S.-related accounts.  In reaching today’s agreement, Coutts acknowledges that there were additional U.S.-related accounts that it knew about, or should have known about, but that were not disclosed to the Department at the time of the signing of the non-prosecution agreement. Coutts has fully cooperated with the Department with respect to the additional U.S.-related accounts. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Eleventh Circuit Sustains IRS Summons Issued For French Tax Investigation (12/18/19)

[This is a cut and paste of a posting on my Federal Tax Procedure Blog]

In Redfern v. United States (11th Cir. Dkt. 19-12649 12/17/19) (unpublished), here, the Court affirmed the IRS’s issuance of summonses to various banks “at the request of the French government, pursuant to the United States–France Income Tax Treaty, to aid an ongoing investigation into Redfern’s [French] tax liability.”

For background on the process, I cut and paste this (footnotes omitted) from a version of the working draft of my Federal Tax Procedure Book (basically same as in my Federal Tax Procedure 2019 editions):
In an increasingly globalized economy, records relevant to tax administration in one country may be possessed by someone in another country. Under many U.S. bilateral tax treaties, one treaty partner is obligated to assist the other in gathering information relevant to the latter's tax administration. For example, the Canadian tax authority (referred to as the “competent authority” in treaty parlance) under the U.S./Canada Double Tax Treaty may request the U.S. tax authority (i.e., the U.S. competent authority) to obtain information in the U.S. for Canadian tax administration. (This is commonly referred to as an “exchange of information” provision.) If the request is within the scope of the treaty, the U.S. competent authority will authorize the IRS to issue an administrative summons. The ultimate taxpayer involved may then bring a motion to quash if the summons is to a third party or, if the summons is to the taxpayer, may invoke any basis for noncompliance and await the IRS's pursuit of a summons enforcement proceeding.  
In United States v. Stuart, 109 S. Ct. 1183 (1989), Canada made such a request to the U.S., the U.S. issued summonses to third parties, and the taxpayer brought a motion to quash. The issue presented was whether the Code's limitation on the use of administrative summonses when a DOJ referral is in effect (§ 7602(d)) applies in the case of a summons issued under the Canadian treaty in relation to the Canadian tax. That Code limitation had been enacted after the U.S./Canadian double tax treaty in question had been negotiated and entered into force. Arguably, even if that limitation were not in the treaty, Congress's subsequent legislation may have created a treaty override. The taxpayer argued that the status of the Canadian tax investigation was the equivalent of a DOJ referral and thus the use of an IRS administrative summons was not proper. The Court held that, notwithstanding the subsequent enactment, the treaty itself controlled and had no such limitation, so that it need not inquire into the status of the Canadian investigation.  
In subsequent cases, courts have held that the propriety of the foreign country’s tax investigation is not relevant to whether the IRS can issue and enforce the summons (or avoid a petition to quash the summons); rather, the issue is whether the IRS has met the Powell requirements for the summons focusing on its actions and not that of the foreign treaty partner requesting the IRS to use its processes to obtain the requested information.  
 Similar processes are available under the OECD Convention on Mutual Assistance in Tax Matters, which is a multilateral treaty, and possibly other treaties as well, although most of the litigated cases appear to involve the bilateral double tax treaties.
The process employed in Redfern for the summons as follows (Slip Op. p. 2):
As required by Internal Revenue Code § 7609(a)(1), the IRS provided Redfern, as the holder of the accounts, with notice of the summons and an explanation of the recipient’s right to bring a proceeding to quash the summons. Specifically, it mailed the required notice to Redfern at (1) the address that appeared on his most recently filed and processed federal tax return and (2) the address identified by France as the address he reported to the government, as well as (3) to Leslie R. Kellogg, an attorney at Hodgson Russ LLP, from whom the IRS had received a power of attorney signed by Redfern authorizing her to receive confidential tax information on Redfern’s behalf.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Court Grants Summary Judgment on FBAR NonWillful Penalty Collection Suit (12/15/19)

In United States v. Agrawal (E.D. Wisc. Dkt. 18-C-0504 Order Dtd. 12/9/19) (CL here and GS here), the Court granted summary judgment to the Government on its complaint (CL here) for judgment on 4 years of nonwillful FBAR penalty at $10,000 per penalty (plus interest and costs).  (Note:  CL is Court Listener and GS is Google Scholar.)  Since he had the account, his only defense to the nonwillful penalty was reasonable cause.  He tried to defend himself against the penalty, acting pro se without an attorney.

His deposition testimony quoted in the opinion is interesting and shows that he was lucky to have avoided the willful penalty.  (Of course, the IRS did not have his deposition testimony when it imposed the penalty.)  The following is from the opinion:
At his deposition, Agrawal testified that he prepared his own tax returns in 2006 and 2007, but relied on CPAs to prepare his tax returns in 2008 and 2009. He testified that he did not tell the CPAs of the existence of the UBS account. Regarding the 2008 tax return preparation, Agrawal testified as follows: 
Q. Did [the CPA] ask you whether you had a foreign financial account?
A. I said no.
Q. You told him no?
A. Yes.
Q. But at this time you still had the UBS account, correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Why did you tell [the CPA] no?
A. Because again, the word of [the UBS representative] that these — this account is not — non-taxable in the U.S.
. . .
Q. You didn't tell [the CPA] that you had a UBS account but were told that it was non-taxable and didn't need to be reported?
A. I didn't tell him.
Q. Okay. Why not?
A. Because when I trust somebody, like [the UBS representative], I didn't tell him.
ECF # 32-17 at 65-66. Regarding the 2009 tax return, Agrawal testified as follows: 
Q: Did you review the Form 1040 of your tax return to 2009 with [the CPA] before you filed it?
A: Yes.
. . .
Q. The Part III, the information about foreign accounts and trusts is blank?
A. Yeah.
Q. Did you ask [the CPA] why it was blank before you filed your return?
A. No.
Q. It didn't cause you any concern?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. Because I didn't notice. He should have said no.
Q. Did [the CPA] ask you if you had any accounts in a foreign country?
A. No. 
Id. at 68. However, with his response to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, Agrawal submitted an affidavit reversing some of this testimony; he now claims that both CPAs asked whether he had foreign accounts; that he told them he did have a foreign account; that the CPAs did not file FBARs on his behalf or report the UBS account on his tax returns; and that he relied on the CPAs' expertise. ECF # 36 at 2-3. Along with this affidavit, Agrawal also filed an errata list amending portions of his deposition testimony, including the portions cited above. Many of these amendments simply change "yes" answers to "no" or vice versa; Agrawal's explanation for these amendments is that he "misspoke." ECF # 37-1 at 11-13.
 And, as often the case, he had other bad facts.

But, to repeat, he is lucky to have avoided the willful penalty which would have been much more.

JAT Comment:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Defendant (A Former Tax Lobbyist and DOJ Tax Attorney) Sentenced to 1 Year for Tax Perjury Conviction (12/13/19)

I previously blogged on the plea agreement for James F. Miller, a former tax lobbyist (and former DOJ Tax attorney).  Former DOJ Tax Attorney Pleads to Tax Perjury (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 6/21/19; 6/22/19), here.  DOJ Tax has a press release on his sentencing.  Virginia Tax Lobbyist Sentenced to Prison for Filing a False Tax Return (12/13/19), with a by-line: “Concealed More than $2.2 Million in Income.” 

The release is somewhat cryptic, but here are key excerpts:
An Alexandria, Virginia, tax lobbyist was sentenced to one year in prison today for willfully filing a false tax return * * * * 
According to court documents, attorney James F. Miller, 67, underreported his gross income on his 2010 through 2014 tax returns by more than $2.2 million. Miller, a tax policy lobbyist and former employee of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, filed multiple false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These returns omitted partnership income he received from two law firms and the gross receipts he received from his own lobbying firm. The total tax loss resulting from Miller’s fraudulent conduct was more than $730,000. 
In addition to the term of imprisonment, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, ordered Miller to serve one year of supervised release and to pay restitution to the United States in the amount of $735,933.
JAT Comments:

1. My rough and ready calculation of his guideline sentencing range is 24-30 months based on the following assumptions as to adjustments: (i) a base offense level of 20 based on tax loss of $730,000 with no adjustments for unreported income from criminal activity or sophisticated means; (ii) a 3-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility; and a resulting 5.A. sentencing level of 17 and indicated range of 24-30 months.

2. The press release indicates that the sentence was for one year.  Often that type of sentencing is 1 year and 1 day, in order to permit the defendant to qualify for the good time credit, which would reduce the actual incarceration time by about 15%.  A sentence of one year does not qualify for the good time credit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

DOJ Reaches DPA with HSBC Switzerland

DOJ Tax has announced a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) with HSBC Switzerland in which “HSBC Switzerland admitted to conspiring with U.S. taxpayers to evade taxes and, as part of the agreement, HSBC Switzerland will pay $192.35 million in penalties.”  See Press Release titled “Justice Department Announces Deferred Prosecution Agreement with HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA,” here.

The key excerpts of the press release are:
According to court documents, HSBC Switzerland admits that between 2000 and 2010 it conspired with its employees, third-party and wholly owned fiduciaries, and U.S. clients to: 1) defraud the United States with respect to taxes; 2) commit tax evasion; and 3) file false federal tax returns. In 2002, the bank had approximately 720 undeclared U.S. client relationships, with an aggregate value of more than $800 million. When the bank’s undeclared assets under management reached their peak in 2007, HSBC Switzerland held approximately $1.26 billion in undeclared assets for U.S. clients.  
According to the terms of the DPA, HSBC Switzerland will cooperate fully with the Tax Division and the IRS. The DPA also requires HSBC Switzerland to affirmatively disclose information it may later uncover regarding U.S.-related accounts, as well as to disclose information consistent with the department’s Swiss Bank Program relating to accounts closed between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2017. Under the DPA, prosecution against the bank for conspiracy will be deferred for an initial period of three years to allow HSBC Switzerland to demonstrate good conduct. The agreement provides no protection for any individuals. 
The $192.35 million penalty against HSBC Switzerland has three parts. First, HSBC Switzerland has agreed to pay $60,600,000 in restitution to the IRS, which represents the unpaid taxes resulting from HSBC Switzerland’s participation in the conspiracy. Second, HSBC Switzerland agreed to forfeit $71,850,000 to the United States, which represents gross fees (not profits) that the bank earned on its undeclared accounts between 2000 and 2010. Finally, HSBC Switzerland agreed to pay a penalty of $59,900,000. This penalty amount takes into consideration that HSBC Switzerland self-reported its conduct, conducted a thorough internal investigation, provided client identifying information to the Tax Division, and extensively cooperated in a series of investigations and prosecutions, as well as implemented remedial measures to protect against the use of its services for tax evasion in the future.

Interesting Retrial After Cheek Defense Based on Religious Objection to Use of Tax Collections (12/11/19)

I picked up this article: After mistrial, judge says he made mistake in allowing man to argue religious objection to filing tax returns (The Oregonian 12/10/19), here.  Basically, it reports that the defendant in a failure to file tax case, Michael Bowman, was permitted in the first trial to assert this defense: “he believed the government had to accommodate his religious objection to funding Planned Parenthood and abortions before he filed the returns.”  The jury hung, so the judge declared a mistrial.  Facing retrial, the judge determined that the defense could not be asserted.  So, it looks like the defendant may not have a viable defense, but he is still entitled to have the government prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

But, in that retrial, the parties apparently agreed to unusual procedures described in the article:
The extremely rare trial will have no witnesses and no jury and will take place before Chief U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman, the same judge who presided over the first trial. Mosman will make a decision based on a set of facts agreed upon ahead of time by the prosecutor and the defense lawyer. 
Bowman, 55, of Columbia City, doesn’t even plan to show up but instead will listen to the proceeding by phone, calling the latest legal twist an “abortion of justice’’ in an email to the judge. Stripped of his defense, he expects Mosman to convict him on all four counts of willful failure to file tax returns. 
Then he plans to appeal.
The trajectory in the first trial has become something of a cause celebre among tax protesters with some misleading claims about what happened.  Here is a good factcheck on those claims (Saranac Hale Spencer, Old Decision in Tax Lawsuit Gets New Spin (FactCheck.org 4/9/19), here) where the quick take is:

A website known for spreading misinformation writes that a man who cited religious reasons for not paying his income taxes “has won an historic lawsuit against the IRS.” That’s misleading. One charge was dropped, but four others have yet to be determined.
JAT Comment:

Monday, December 9, 2019

Reuters Reports EU Considers Further Tax Haven Listing (12/9/19)

Reuters has this report:  EU to consider tougher tax haven listing (12/6/19), here.  Key excerpts:
A group of European Union countries is calling for the bloc to cast a wider net when listing tax havens and to consider imposing stricter sanctions for countries facilitating tax avoidance, according to an EU document and an EU official. 
The document, prepared by the Danish government and seen by Reuters, urges a discussion on whether “current criteria provide sufficient protection against tax avoidance and evasion” and pushes for “strengthened” standards and sanctions. Germany and France were among its backers. 
It also calls for a discussion on how member states deal with the issue, asking “Do we internally have sufficient safeguards against tax avoidance and evasion?” 
This potentially sets up a dispute with EU members Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Ireland, which widely use low tax and other sweeteners to host EU headquarters of foreign firms, depriving other EU governments of tax revenues from profits that corporations make on their territory. 
At a meeting of EU finance ministers on Thursday, several EU states backed the Danish proposal, one EU official said, naming Germany, France, Spain and Austria among the explicit supporters. 
* * * * 
Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Ireland were listed in a report by International Monetary Fund researchers in September as world-leading tax havens, together with Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland and Mauritius. None of them are on the [current ] EU list.
JAT Comment:  Good.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Swiss High Court Approves UBS Disclosure of French Account Holders and Outlines Requirements (12/4/19)

According to a Reuters report, Switzerland's highest court has outlined the requirements for foreign countries seeking Swiss assistance for tax related information:  Swiss court outlines rules for helping countries chase tax cheats (Reuters 12/4/2019), here.  Key excerpts:
Switzerland’s highest court spelled out the steps foreign authorities must take if they want legal assistance in chasing tax cheats as it released the written verdict on why it made UBS Group (UBSG.S) in July share client data with France. 
The Federal Court ruled that Switzerland’s biggest bank must hand over historical data on more than 40,000 client accounts to French tax authorities in a landmark case keenly watched by other countries seeking similar information. 
The ruling was also closely watched for the impact it might have on the Swiss bank’s separate 4.5 billion euro ($5 billion) legal battle with France in a criminal case over alleged tax avoidance by UBS clients. 
Revenue-hungry governments, for years thwarted by Switzerland’s strict secrecy rules, are monitoring developments to see if they can use historical evidence of their citizens’ trying to hide money from tax authorities. 
In its written ruling released on Wednesday, the court said it would not help “fishing expeditions” by foreign tax authorities seeking potential evidence of wrongdoing by groups of citizens. 
Tax authorities must give a detailed description of the group involved and specific circumstances that led to the request; explain the applicable law and reasons to assume that taxpayers did not fulfill their obligations; and demonstrate that the information requested could help make them do so. 
The court reinforced its stance that the client data UBS is providing French tax authorities cannot be used by French prosecutors in the criminal investigation of UBS, the world’s biggest wealth manager. 
The data is solely to help go after French tax dodgers.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Missing Witness Negative Inference and the Impeachment Proceedings (12/1/19)

A couple of days ago, I wrote on the D.C. Circuit Court’s rejection of another Bullshit Tax Shelter.  D.C. Circuit Swats Down Bullshit Tax Shelter (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 11/29/19), here.  One of the issues discussed in the case (but only lightly discussed in the blog) is the negative inference that a trier of fact may draw from a missing witness.  I noted: “In its most common iteration, the missing witness negative inference is deployed when the witness is controlled by one of the party’s to the litigation.”  I use this separate blog entry to discuss the missing witness negative inference in this context because of its potential for its application where, in the impeachment proceedings or the resulting trial, President Trump has control or suasion over witnesses whom he directs or encourages not to testify.

A good statement of the missing witness rule--usually invoked in a jury instruction context to explain to the jury how to use the rule--is (United States v. St. Michael's Credit Union, 880 F.3d 579, 597 (1st Cir. 1989), here (cleaned up):
The rationale behind the missing witness instruction has been stated as follows: "the failure of a party to produce available evidence that would help decide an issue may justify an inference that the evidence would be unfavorable to the party to whom it is available or whom it would ordinarily be expected to favor." 2 C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 489 (1982). First Circuit precedent has established three circumstances that may warrant a missing witness instruction.  
The jury may draw an inference adverse to a party toward whom the missing witness is favorably disposed, because the party would normally be expected to produce such a witness. In addition, the jury may draw an adverse inference when a party fails to produce a material witness who is peculiarly available to that party. Finally, when a party having exclusive control over a witness who could provide relevant, noncumulative testimony fails to produce the witness, it is permissible to draw an adverse inference from that party's failure to do so, even in the absence of any showing of the witness's predisposition toward the party.
Readers will note that the negative inference from a missing witness is an evidentiary context for inferences that we use everyday in all sorts of contexts beyond a trial setting.  If it is important to establish the truth of a proposition and any party withholds potentially important evidence as to the truth or falsity of the proposition, then an inference can be and often is drawn that the evidence would be negative to that party.  The inference is deployed in a trial setting where it is critically important to establish the truth of facts which the trier of fact (judge or jury) is requested to find.  The party who suffers if the fact is or is not true and declines to produce evidence within that party's control can be subject to a negative inference as to the content of the withheld evidence.  Just that simple.

In the current context, President Trump has directed and clearly signaled to all persons within his control or suasion that they should not testify.  That is the classic case in which the missing witness negative inference can be made.  As I indicated, that rule is important in fact finding in every day life and in trials.

Friday, November 29, 2019

D.C. Circuit Swats Down Bullshit Tax Shelter (11/29/19)

In Endeavor Partners, LLC v. Commissioner, ___ F.3d ___ (D.C. Cir. 2019), here, the Court affirmed the Tax Court’s strike-down of yet another bullshit tax shelter, Endeavor Partners, LLC v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-96, here.  In broad overview without getting into the weeds, these shelters do very large highly leveraged offsetting trades with relatively little cash outlay and no real economic risk.  The resulting transactions produce very large nominal gains with offsetting nominal losses, with in net no material risk and no material gain.  The nominal gains are allocated to tax indifferent parties, and the nominal losses are allocated to wealthy taxpayers with high taxable income to offset their income and thus avoid (or, in many cases, evade) tax on their income.

I start with the marvelous Tax Court opinion by Judge Lauber because he does get into the weeds.  Here is the overview from p. 3 of the Slip Op.:
Finding that the transactions lacked any economic substance whatsoever, we will sustain respondent’s disallowance of the loss deductions in question. But we are unable to sustain the accuracy-related penalties determined under section 6662(a). Although the partnerships’ conduct is plainly deserving of penalty, respondent has conceded that the IRS did not secure, prior to the issuance of the FPAAs, written supervisory approval of the penalties as required by section 6751(b)(1). 
Basically, the principal behind one of the promoters was Andrew D. Beer, but he had many enablers, including prominent accounting firms (Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young), at least one prominent law firm (Arnold & Porter, whose more likely than not opinion was highly marketable), and Deutsche Bank ("DB", which implemented the illusory financial transactions and made the purported loans backing them).  Arnold & Porter alone was paid about $10 million for something.  I started to call them legal fees, but that gives them a dignity they do not deserve.  A better description is that they were insurance premiums sold to wealthy participants in the shelter to protect them (they hoped) from criminal and civil penalties for claiming tax shelter benefits that any reasonable and half-way intelligent person would have known were too good to be true.

So, the Tax Court in 66 pages lays bare the perfidy of these actors, albeit dressed in tax lingo that somehow detracts from the fact that these bullshit shelters, and this one specifically, were simply fraudulent raids on the U.S. Treasury.

So, how does one defend such nonsense?  I have not looked through the Tax Court briefs, but the Tax Court did find Mr. Beer and the expert witnesses not credible on any issue in the case.  So, further obfuscation was the defense.  It did not work at the trial level.

To their credit, the attorneys for the bullshit shelter in their appellate brief opened as follows:
Delta and its affiliates (collectively the “Delta Group”) were involved with certain so-called “tax shelters” that we recognize this Court has viewed with disfavor. At issue here, however, is not whether any transaction was a “tax shelter” or whether any “tax shelter” was valid. Rather, the issues on this appeal are principled ones of evidence and fundamental procedural fairness. We respectfully urge the Court to focus on how the Tax Court applied the rules of evidence rather than on the subject matter to which it applied them.
Just as the shelter dodged the bullet on the accuracy related penalty because of the IRS’s footfault on the § 6751(b) written manager approval requirement, it tried to avoid the consequence of its bullshit because, it alleged, the Tax Court treated it unfairly from a procedural perspective.

Monday, November 25, 2019

New LB&I Campaign for Post OVDP Compliance (11/25/19)

I previously reported that IRS LB&I included among its “campaigns” OVDP Declines-Withdrawals Campaign.  IRS LB&I "Campaigns" to Focus on OVDP Declines-Withdrawals, Among Other Issues (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 2/1/17), here.

LB&I’s campaigns are an audit strategy added in 2017 to improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of noncompliance, and make the greatest use of its limited resources.

In another OVDP related development, in November 2019), the IRS added the following:
Post Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) Compliance

Practice Area: Withholding & International Individual Compliance 
Lead Executive: John Cardone, director of Withholding & International Individual Compliance 
U.S. persons are subject to tax on worldwide income. This campaign addresses tax noncompliance related to former Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) taxpayers’ failure to remain compliant with their foreign income and asset reporting requirements. The IRS will address tax noncompliance through soft letters and examinations.
See IRS website for its active campaigns, here.

JAT Comment:  One of the traditional goals of the IRS's voluntary disclosure programs is not only to resolve past issues but, put the taxpayers involved on a track of ongoing compliance, not only with respect to offshore accounts but their tax obligations generally.  It is not clear whether these initiatives will focus narrowly on the compliance issue identify but might sweep more broadly to identify general noncompliance.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

RICO Claim Dismissed Against Bullshit Tax Shelter Promoters (11/19/19; 11/22/19)

In Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP, __ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. 2019), here, the Court dismissed a RICO claim arising out of an alleged fraudulent tax shelter peddled to the taxpayer (Menzies) by a lawyer, law firm and two financial services firms.  The Court held that fraudulent tax shelters can be subject of RICO claims, but Menzies had failed to properly assert the claims in the pleadings.

The particular shelter involved was of the bullshit shelters, often a topic discussed on this blog.  Here is my definition from my Tax Procedure books (Practitioner Edition p. 905 (footnotes omitted); Student Edition p. 616):
Abusive tax shelters are many and varied.  Some are outright fraudulent, usually wrapped in a shroud of paper work and cascade of words designed to mask the shelter as a real deal.  The more sophisticated are often without substance but do have some at least attenuated, if superficial, claim to legality.  Some of the characteristics that I have observed for tax shelters that the Government might perceive as abusive are that (i) the transaction is outside the mainstream activity of the taxpayer, (ii) the transaction is incredibly complex in its structure and steps so that not many (including IRS auditors, if they stumble across the transaction(s)) will have the ability, tenacity, time and resources to trace it out to its illogical conclusion (this feature is often included to increase the taxpayer’s odds of winning the audit lottery); (iii) the transaction costs of the arrangement and risks involved, even where large relative to the deal, offer a favorable cost benefit/ratio only because of the tax benefits to be offered by the audit lottery, (iv) the promoters (and other enablers) of the adventure make a lot more than even an hourly rate even at the high end for professionals (the so-called value added fee, which is often insurance type compensation to mediate potential penalty risks by shifting them to the tax professional or the netherworld between the taxpayer and the tax professional) and (v) the objective indications as to the taxpayer's purpose for entering the transaction are a tax savings motive rather than any type of purposive business or investment motive.   
More succinctly, Michael Graetz, a Yale Law Professor, has described an abusive tax shelter as “[a] deal done by very smart people that, absent tax considerations, would be very stupid.”  Other thoughtful observers vary the theme, e.g. a tax shelter “is a deal done by very smart people who are pretending to be rather stupid themselves for financial gain.”  Others have described the abusive tax shelters as “too good to be true.” 
I could not ascertain precisely what the steps in the fraudulent tax shelter scheme were other than, like Son-of-Boss transactions, the scheme created artificial losses that, presumably, offset the gain on sale of AUI stock, although it is not clear whether that gain was ever reported in order to use artificial losses. (I perhaps just missed something there.)  Here is the best explanation from Judge Hamilton’s dissenting opinion (Slip Op. 33-35):

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Report of IRS Criminal Interest in Captive Insurance Shelters (11/17/19)

It is reported that the IRS is looking to make criminal referrals to CI in § 831(b) captive insurance cases.  Jay Adkisson, IRS Suggests Criminal Referrals To Be Made In Abusive 831(b) Captive Tax Shelter Cases (Forbes 11/17/19), here.  The article cites as its source an article written by Aysha Baghi in Bloomberg's Tax Management Weekly Report™ which in turn cites SB/SE Commissionier Eric Hylton at a conference.

Adkisson notes the potential targets:

1. Promoter (captive manager) who could have been subject to promoter examination and continued to market the product even after Notice 2016-66.

2. Actuaries who provided studies making “unsupportable predictions about claims and losses, i.e., so-called ‘whore actuaries’.”

3. The captive owners who continued to take deductions after the Notice.

Adkisson speculates that, while referral to CI is one thing, as to referral from CI to DOJ Tax, the target environment is “ not so rich since DOJ-TAX would have to prove tax fraud beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher standard than that something is a mere tax shelter.”  Adkisson notes:

Here, it would likely be a captive manager and their client who was caught fabricating claims after-the-fact so as to try to justify the premiums paid to the captive, or the IRS had audio tapes or other evidence of the captive manager selling the captive as a tax shelter but then later falsely testifying that there were no tax motivations for the arrangements.

Adkisson notes that the IRS may seek promoter injunctions, but that “the forecast for a criminal injunction before 2020 is probably pretty low.”  I think he means criminal prosecution rather than criminal injunction.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sixth Circuit Holds that Courts Cannot Enjoin IRS From Receiving or Using Alleged Confidential Info from Former Attorney (11/13/19)

In Gaetano v. United States, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 33164 (6th Cir. 2019), here, the Gaetanos (husband and wife) sued the United States to enjoin the IRS from receiving and using attorney-client confidential information that their former attorney, Goodman, did or might share with the IRS.  The Court opens with this good succinct introduction of the factual background and holding.
Richard and Kimberly Gaetano trusted Gregory Goodman as their legal advisor and business partner in running a cannabis operation. That trust was spurned.  The Gaetanos ended the relationship after ethics violations undid Goodman's license to practice law. He retaliated by assisting the Internal Revenue Service in a tax audit against them. Concerned about what Goodman might reveal, the Gaetanos sued the government to prevent it from discussing attorney-client confidences with him. The Anti-Injunction Act bars the lawsuit, and the Williams Packing exception does not apply. See 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a); Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navig. Co., 370 U.S. 1, 82 S. Ct. 1125, 8 L. Ed. 2d 292 (1962).
The district court dismissed the complaint.  On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that dismissal was proper on jurisdictional grounds because of the Anti-Injunction Act, § 7421(a).  In summary, the Court held:

1.  The claim of violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel was improper because that is a right that attaches when prosecution is commenced.  There was no prosecution (at least not yet).

2.  The claim of violation of due process was improper.  The Court reasoned (cleaned up):
The Gaetanos next seek refuge in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. As a creation of the common law, not the Constitution, the attorney-client privilege cannot by itself provide the basis for a due process claim. Support for the Gaetanos' position thus must come from somewhere else, in this instance from cases holding that deliberate preindictment intrusions into the attorney-client relationship may prove so pervasive and prejudicial as to imperil the fairness of subsequent proceedings.  
Vanishingly few decisions have found a due process violation for government intrusion into the attorney client relationship. The few cases generally involved nefarious government conduct,  such as infiltrating a defense lawyer's office. And in the lion's share of cases, courts treat these due process claims with suspicion. For our part, we have never found a Fifth Amendment violation on this ground. And we recently expressed our skepticism about the continued vitality of the "outrageous government conduct" defense, of which these claims are thought to be a subspecies. 
Even if this deliberate-intrusion concept could form the basis of a due process claim, the Gaetanos still would not prevail. Such claims require an ongoing, personal attorney-client relationship. That's not something the Gaetanos and Goodman have. Such claims also require a deliberate intrusion. But that's not what happened. The government never requested privileged information from Goodman. Such claims also require actual and substantial prejudice. But the Gaetanos seek relief outside the context of any enforcement proceeding, and they offer no explanation why the ordinary remedy—suppressing privileged evidence—would fail to protect them. No Fifth Amendment danger lurks.
3.  The Court rejected a claim under § 7525, noting that the privilege could be raised only to prevent compelled production of privileged information, but cannot be used to stop extrajudicial communications unrelated to  proceedings before a court.

Negotiating Misdemeanor Plea in Lieu of Felony in Tax Crimes Cases? (11/13/19)

In United States v. Christensen, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 193864 (D. AZ. 2019) (Magistrate Report and Recommendation), here, Gary Steven Christensen had been convicted of multiple tax crimes and brought a "Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody."  This motion states a standard claim for convicted defendants that they had not received a fair trial and appeal because of ineffective counsel.  The Magistrate R&R linked here recommends that the motion be denied and that a certificate of appealability be denied.

The general claims of ineffective counsel made are interesting.  Those who might be interested in such claims will, I think, find these claims interesting and so I do recommend it for those particularly interested in this type of claims.

But, what caught my eye was the claim Christensen makes about his attorney's plea negotiations.  Christensen was charged with 13 felony counts (7 evasion and 5 tax perjury) and 2 misdemeanor counts (failure to file).  The opinion states that, prior to the trial, Christensen's "Counsel wrote that he was "close to securing a plea offer ... which would dismiss all felonies and allow plead[ing] to three misdemeanor offenses to entirely resolve this criminal prosecution."  (See Slip Op. 5-6.)

Bottom-line, I have not experienced any willingness on tax prosecutors to take pleas to misdemeanor charges in lieu of felony charges.

I point to the DOJ Tax Criminal Tax Manual (CTM) Chapter 5 on plea agreements, here.  I could not find any discussion of offering to exchange multiple felony counts for one or more misdemeanor counts.

I ask readers to offer their comments on this issue, either by comment to this blog or by email to me at jack@tjtaxlaw.com.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Net Worth, Corroboration of Defendant's Statements and Corpus Delecti (11/11/19)

One of my weekly automated searches picked up this recent case quote from United States v. Tanco-Baez, Nos. 16-1322, 16-1323, 16-1563, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 32910, at *15-16 (1st Cir. Nov. 4, 2019), here (cleaned up; emphasis supplied):
The Court recognized that the corpus delicti for some offenses -- unlike the corpus delicti for, say, homicide -- is not "tangible." Smith, 348 U.S. at 154. For example, according to the Court, tax evasion is an offense that lacks a "tangible" corpus delicti, id., because the offense results in no "physical damage to person or property," The Court then explained that, for offenses of that sort, evidence that would tend to establish the corpus delicti "must implicate the accused," even though evidence that would tend to establish the corpus delicti of offenses that result in physical damage or injury -- such as evidence of the murdered body in a homicide case -- need not.
Since I don't recall dealing with the concept of corpus delecti before in my tax crimes adventures or the cited Smith case, I thought I would chase down Smith, which may be viewed in it glory here.

In Smith, the Court opens with this statement:  "This is the third of the net worth cases and the first dealing with the Government's use of extrajudicial statements made by the accused."  Tax Crimes fans know (or should know) all about the net worth method for proving taxable income and thus tax due and owing, a key element of tax evasion.  (The net worth method is also used in civil cases to establish tax due.)  I had encountered the other two cases of this net worth trilogy, Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121 (1954), here, and Friedberg v. United States, 348 U.S. 142 (1954), here.  I am sure many tax crimes fans had encountered Holland and Friedberg.  So, having not yet consciously encountered Smith, I thought I would educate myself.

I found out that the real reason Smith does not arise prominently in a tax crimes practice is that the key issue it resolved was not a tax issue, but a general criminal issue having to do with the so-called corroboration rule for a defendant's out of court admissions of a crime.  Thus, Smith is prominently linked with the corroboration rule cases; indeed, it is linked with a "trio" of corroboration cases decided the same day.  As the First Circuit in Tanco-Baez said:
But, while the corroboration rule initially served this important but "extremely limited function," Smith, 348 U.S. at 153, the Supreme Court expanded on it in a trio of cases decided on the same day in 1954. See Smith, 348 U.S. 147; Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84 (1954); United States v. Calderon, 348 U.S. 160 (1954).
The background for Smith is that, in the application of the net worth method, the agent received statements from Smith as to opening net worth but then, through further investigation, increased the opening net worth.  In the net worth method, it is better for the defendant (or taxpayer in a civil case) to have a higher opening net worth, so the agent's further investigation helped Smith, although it still indicated enough income in the convicted years to convict for tax evasion.  In effect, the agent’s further work “corroborated” the statements as to components of the opening net worth made by Smith.

This still does not have the context of the other two contemporaneous corroboration cases of the development of the law since Smith and the two other cases.  The Court in Tanco-Baez covers that quite nicely, so I won’t plow that ground here for those wanting to get further into the issue.  I do offer this excerpt, rather extensive to tee up the topic in its current context:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Court of Appeals for Federal Circuit Affirms CFC Norman Holding that Taxpayer is Subject to FBAR Willful Penalty (11/10/19; 11/13/19)

In Norman v. United States, (Fed. Cir. 11/8/19), here, the Federal Circuit sustained an FBAR willful penalty, holding:

1. FBAR willfulness includes recklessness, as held by two other Circuits:  Bedrosian v. United States, 912 F.3d 144, 152–53 (3d Cir. 2018); United States v. Williams, 489 F. App’x 655, 658–59 (4th Cir. 2012).

2.  The Court of Federal Claims ("CFC") did not err in holding that Norman was willful for the following reasons (Slip Op. 7-8):
The Court of Federal Claims did not clearly err in finding that Ms. Norman’s failure to file an FBAR was willful. Ms. Norman signed her 2007 tax return under penalty of perjury, and this return falsely indicated that she had no interest in any foreign bank account. She did so after her accountant sent her a questionnaire that specifically asked whether she had a foreign bank account. In addition, the evidence shows that Ms. Norman took the following steps, each of which had the effect of inhibiting disclosure of the account to the IRS: (1) Ms. Norman opened her foreign account as a “numbered account”; (2) she signed a document preventing UBS from investing in U.S. securities on her behalf; and (3) the one time she withdrew money from the account, her Swiss bank account manager delivered the money to her in cash. 
Moreover, once the IRS opened an audit of Ms. Norman, she made many false statements to the IRS about her knowledge of, and the circumstances surrounding, the account. Ms. Norman told the IRS, both during an interview and in a letter, that she first learned of the account in 2009. In her letter, she stated that she “was shocked to first hear about the existence of foreign accounts” in her name. In 2014, after retaining counsel, Ms. Norman sent the IRS another letter “to correct several misstatements.” Although Ms. Norman admitted in this 2014 letter that she knew [*8] “more than a decade ago” that she had an “interest” in a foreign bank account, she maintained in the 2014 letter that “none of the money in the Swiss account(s) was mine[,] and I did not consider myself to have any kind of control over the account.” J.A. 146. In fact, Ms. Norman knew long before 2009 that she owned a foreign bank account and controlled its assets. She opened the account in 1999, actively managed the account for many years, and even withdrew money from the account in 2002.
3.  In making the holding, the Court rejected that argument that her mother advised her do it.  (Slip Op. 8.)

4.  Also, the Court rejected the claim that she did not know because she did not read the return she signed.  Even if she did not, she had constructive knowledge and acted recklessly.  (Slip Op. 8-9.)

6.  The Court rejected her argument that the unamended regulations after the 2004 amendment increasing the penalty to $100,000 or 50% of the acccount prevented a penalty exceeding $100,000 (the maximum under the pre-amendment statute).  Basically, the court held that the amendment trumped the regulations that preceded the amendment.

7.  The Court declined to reach Norman's argument, launched too late, that the FBAR willful penalty was an excess fine under the Eighth Amendment.

8.  For an excellent discussion of the Norman case, see Robert S. Horwitz, Federal Circuit Upholds Liability for FBAR Willful Penalty, Determines the Regulation Limiting Penalty to $100,000 Is Invalid (Tax Litigator Blog 11/11/19), here.

JAT Comments:

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Government Alleges Misconduct By Attorney in FBAR Related Summons Enforcement Case (10/26/19)

I ran across an article on Law360:  NY Man's Atty Made False Statements In FBAR Row, US Says (Law360 10/21/19), here (subscription required).  Since allegations against attorneys are rare, I poked around the docket entries in United States v. Chabot (D. N.J. - No. 3:14-cv-03055).  I offer here links to key documents filed as of today, but offer no comment on them.  Those interested should read the documents.  The attorney against whom the allegations are made has not filed a response.  I will look for the response and provide a link as an update when it is filed.

The docket entries on CourtListener are here.  They are available on Pacer, of course, but readers who are cost-sensitive might want to review on CourtListener which is a free service.

This is a summons enforcement action originally started in 2014.  Somehow, the case has been pending for a long time now, with some intrigue along the way.  One of the reasons for the delays is Chabot's continued intransigence, with resulting appeals.  See United States v. Chabot, 793 F.3d 338 (3d Cir. 2015) here, cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 559 (2015) (rejecting Fifth Amendment as to foreign bank records); and United States v. Chabot, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 4355 (3d Cir. 2017), here, cert. den. (nonprecedential) (affirming Chabot's contempt).  Chabot's position in both appeals, asserted by Richard Levine appear tenuous at best, at least in hindsight. although the Third Circuit did feel the need to write a precedential opinion in the first appeal which would likely not be needed if the argument were frivolous.

The key document on the subject of the article:  U.S. brief titled "United States of America's Brief Regarding Past Statements by Eli Chabot and Richard Levine," Dkt Entry 150 here.  A prior related motion, titled "United States of America's Renewed Motion for an Increased Sanction to Compel Compliance," Dkt Entry 141 here.

In that brief (Dkt Entry 150), the Government makes strong allegations against Mr. Chabot and against his prior attorney in the litigation, Richard Levine.  The allegations are captioned, respectively:
ELI CHABOT – FALSE STATEMENTS (Brief Dkt 150 pp. 4-8) 
RICHARD LEVINE – ETHICAL VIOLATIONS (Brief Dkt 150 pp. 8-17), with the following subtitles:
The Changing Bases of Chabot’s Defense (starting on p. 9)
Misrepresentation of the FBAR Requirements (starting on p. 12)
False or Misleading Evidence (starting on p. 13)
Frivolous Motions to Compel Production (starting on p, 16)
The Government concludes by requesting that "that the Court take whatever action it deems necessary to vindicate its authority and to enforce all applicable laws and regulations governing the legal and ethical obligations of attorneys practicing in New Jersey."

Mr. Levine has engaged counsel.  See letter of 10/24/19, here, requesting until 12/4/19 to respond.

I will post an update with a link to the response when filed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

California Attorney, a Prior Tax Offender and Embezzler, Pleads Guilty to tax Evasion (10/21/19)

I received an email from IRS CI announcing the following plea
James Roy McDaniel, 66, who pleaded guilty before United States District Judge S. James Otero to one count of tax evasion, is scheduled to be sentenced on February 3, 2020.  At sentencing, McDaniel could receive a statutory maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. 
McDaniel was a licensed California attorney for more than two decades, until he pleaded guilty in late 2004 to one felony count of subscribing to a false income tax return. In 2005, McDaniel was sentenced to three years in federal prison for that crime, and he surrendered his license to practice law in California. In that case, McDaniel’s failure to report income resulted in a tax loss of $677,368 to the federal government, according to court documents. McDaniel’s additional income was the result of his embezzlement of over $1.6 million from two prominent families he represented as an attorney.  McDaniel served time in state prison for the embezzlement. 
The IRS subsequently assessed McDaniel more than $1.4 million in taxes, interest and penalties for the tax years 1997 through 2001, court papers state. 
According to the signed plea agreement, McDaniel willfully attempted to evade paying his debt to the IRS by creating two shell companies – Davis Bell Consulting LLC and James Roy Consulting LLC – where he directed payments for tax and estate planning consulting work he performed after being released from prison. During a scheme that allegedly ran from May 2008 until December 2012, McDaniel attempted to mislead federal tax authorities and conceal his income by directing other people to sign documents identifying themselves as the sole managing members of the shell companies. As part of the scheme, McDaniel directed them to open bank accounts where he deposited checks for his tax and estate planning work. 
McDaniel continued to earn income for tax and estate planning consulting work during each of calendar years 2008 to 2018, but willfully failed to report his income, and willfully failed to file tax returns with the IRS for tax years 2011 to 2018. 
McDaniel admits that from 2012 through 2017, he received taxable income of at least $527,944, and subsequently owes unpaid taxes of $184,126, in addition to the $1.4 million previously assessed. 
I'll post a link to the DOJ Tax or USAO web page on the plea when I have it.

JAT Comment:  

1.  This is not your typical tax crimes case.  The typical tax crimes offender is a one-time offender and is not charged again after serving his time.  There is more than one possible reason for that.  The first is that the offender learned his lesson and will not commit tax crimes again.  The second is that perhaps the IRS and DOJ do not want to fire their limited prosecutorial bullets at repeat offenders who may seem incapable of learning lessons.  Still, I suppose that some of these repeat offenders have to be tried simply to discourage others who might be tempted after being convicted for tax crimes.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Make Tax Crimes Great Again Caps for Sale (10/14/19)

I am offering for sale the "official" cap -- Make Tax Crimes Great Again (see image at right).

I offer them for a per unit cost that covers my costs of purchase, tax and mailing.  Here is the breakdown, with the costs depending upon the number purchased by me which I will then pass on.

Number Ordered
My Per Cap Cost
Tax
Total
Your Price
12
$25.73
$1.54
$27.27
$30.00
20
$20.23
$1.21
$21.44
$25.00

As you can see, I am not really looking to make money on the sale of caps.  I suspect that the difference between my purchase price and sales price is just a bit more than the cost to mail the caps, but not much.

Let me know if you are interested by emailing me at jack@tjtaxlaw.com. After I determine the number interested, I will set the final Purchase Price and then advise where to send the check and provide the delivery address for the caps.  Keep in mind that the caps are not yet made.  I am told that the time to make and deliver the caps to me is about 2 weeks.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Reminder on the Cheek Good Faith Defense -- It Usually Does Not Work (10/12/19)

The United States Attorney for Nevada announced here the sentencing of William Waller Jr., a Las Vegas real estate broker and the owner of Burbank Holdings or Platinum Properties for convictions of tax evasion and willful failure to file.  His sentence was 78 months and restitution imposed is $1,459,535.70.  Key excerpts are:
According to court pleadings and evidence presented at trial, Waller sought to evade taxes by incorporating a shell entity, opening bank accounts in its name, and directing his income into those accounts rather than accounts in his own name.  He also dealt extensively in cash and reduced his equity in his home, the only asset he held in his own name, thereby making it an unattractive asset for the IRS to seize.  
Waller testified at trial that he believed that he was not required to file tax returns or pay taxes, but acknowledged that he was influenced by the teachings of several prominent tax defiers. These included one, who had been convicted three times of tax fraud, and another, who had been stripped of his CPA license. Waller also admitted to purchasing and watching tax defier courses, including one on how to beat criminal tax charges.  Following the defendant’s testimony and the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts on March 18, 2019.
The first two sentences of the second paragraph describe, somewhat cryptically, his Cheek good faith defense.  That defense is that, in effect, he, in good faith, did not intend to violate a known legal duty.  See Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991), here, defining willfulness (an element of most Internal Revenue Code (Title 26) tax crimes) as voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty.  United States v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10, 13 (1976), here.  As I have conceptualized that element of the crime, (i) the duty must be knowable (the law must be clear and not ambiguous, per the line of cases going back to James v. United States, 366 U.S. 213 (1961), here) and (ii) the defendant must have known the knowable duty.  A defendant's good faith belief that he is not violating the law is a defense.  In other words, real, good faith ignorance of the law (but not feigned ignorance) is a defense.

In Cheek, the defendant was successful in establishing that he was entitled to an instruction properly advising the jury of the defense, thus entitling him to retrial where the Government must prove that he intended to violate a known legal duty.  The defendant lost on retrial.  United States v. Cheek, 3 F.3d 1057 (7th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1112 (1994), here.

I don't have statistics on how many cases in which this defense has been raised on trial it has been successful, but my sense from watching these cases over a number of years is that it is rarely successful.  It certainly did not work for Mr. Waller in the case prompting this blog.

I thought I would include some discussion of the Cheek good faith defense from Michael Saltzman and Leslie Book, IRS Practice and Procedure (Thomsen Reuters 2015), here, ¶12.05. Selected Criminal Tax Topics (of which I am the principal author):

Friday, October 4, 2019

Eleventh Circuit Remands for Better Restitution Calculation (10/5/19)

In United States v. Sheffield, ___ F.3d ___ (11th Cir. 2019), here, the Court remanded to the district court for a more precise calculation of restitution imposed on a tax preparer falsely claiming tax credits of $1,000 per return.  Basically, the Court held that the calculation was easy -- $1,000 times the number of returns.  Hence, there was no excuse for any estimation or duplication (which there apparently was, as even admitted by the Government).

In this regard, the Court of Appeals observed:
The Supreme Court, citing a 2018 publication by the Government Accounting Office, recently noted that approximately 90% of restitution orders in criminal cases are uncollectible. See Lagos v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1684, 1689 (2018). As the district court surmised, it is highly unlikely that Ms. Sheffield and her co-defendants will be able to satisfy a restitution obligation of over $3 million. 
At oral argument, Ms. Sheffield asserted that the duplicate entries totaled $136,000. The government, for its part, stated that the duplicate entries amounted to only $31,000. If Ms. Sheffield is correct about the extent of the duplication error in the spreadsheet, that error amounts to a mere .04% of the government’s proposed total of $3,461,638. So one may wonder why it is that we are reversing a multimillion dollar restitution order when the result on remand is likely to be approximately the same and payment (at least full payment) is unlikely. The reason is a simple one. Ms. Sheffield has the “right not to be sentenced on the basis of inaccurate or unreliable information,” United States v. Giltner, 889 F.2d 1004, 1008 (11th Cir. 1989), and is not required to pay restitution she is not responsible for.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

DOJ Tax New Crime-Fraud Strategy (10/3/19)

I recommend to readers this short introduction to DOJ Tax's recent initiatives for the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege.  Sarah Paul and Daniel Strickland, Tackling the Tax Division’s New Crime-Fraud Strategy (Bloomberg Tax 10/2/19), here.

A good discussion of the attorney-client privilege and the crime-fraud exception in a current context is in Paul Rosenzweig, Michael Cohen, Attorney-Client Privilege and the Crime-Fraud Exception (Lawfare 4/10/18), here.

I have written before on the crime-fraud exception.  Here are some key blog entries (in reverse chronological order):

  • Third Circuit Reverses District Court on Application of Work-Product Privilege for Email to Return Preparer (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/30/17), here.
  • Update on the Zukerman Indictment - Potential Waivable Conflicts of Interest of Advocate as Witness (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 5/28/16; 6/21/16), here.
  • Second Circuit Affirms Application of Crime-Fraud Exception to the Attorney-Client Privilege (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 10/10/15; 5/24/16), here.
  • Third Circuit on Crime-Fraud Exception to Attorney-Client and Work-Product Privileges (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 12/12/12), here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

N.C. Doctor Sentenced for Tax Evasion (10/2/19)

One of the downsides of paying too much attention to Federal Tax Crimes is to see people who abuse the privileges that they have received in life.  Here is a case of a doctor who had a privileged position.  Certainly, he had a good education (he did get in and graduate from medical school) and was ahead, financially and in status, of most Americans.

This doctor, Dr. David Russell, was convicted and sentenced to prison for tax evasion.  He got a rather light slap on the wrist (sentenced to 12 months and a day, so that he will get significantly less than 12 months with the good time credit).  I just wonder if the minority mechanic down at Joe's Body Shop who did roughly equivalent things would have gotten such a lenient sentence.  I won't know that, because it is a counterfactual.

The DOJ Press Release is here, and the key excerpt is:
According to documents and information provided to the court, from May 2012 to December 2015, Dr. David Russell, 66, took several actions to evade payment of federal income taxes, interest, and penalties he accrued over six previous tax years. Russell ignored a duly-issued Internal Revenue Service (IRS) summons to appear before an IRS collections officer with his pertinent financial records.  After the IRS sought and received a court order compelling Russell to comply with the summons, he provided minimal information and omitted records related to any financial accounts and assets he may have had. Russell also hid his assets from the IRS by depositing his paychecks on a reloadable debit card and having wages issued in the name of a company he controlled rather than directly to himself.  He also used a business to pay personal expenses.  In addition to evading the payment of these taxes, Dr. Russell failed to timely pay the taxes due for the years 2013 through 2015.
JAT Comment:

1. None other than the introduction.

Guilty Plea for Lying on Pre-Sentencing Financial Disclosure Form (10/2/19)

I previously reported on the guilty plea and sentencing of Casey Padula for tax and bank fraud.  See  Another Offshore Account Guilty Plea Coupled with Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/25/17), here; and Offshore Account Tax and Bank Fraud Conspiracy Sentencing (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/19/17), here.  Well, Padula is back with a guilty plea for lying on his pre-sentencing Financial Disclosure Form.  See DOJ Press Release, here

Key excerpt from the Press Release:
According to documents filed with the court, Casey Padula, age 51, formerly of Port Charlotte, Florida, made the false statements on a financial disclosure statement he was required to submit to the government after pleading guilty to tax and bank fraud. On July 17, 2017, in the prior prosecution, Padula was sentenced to 57 months in prison on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit bank fraud. Padula admitted using offshore entities and accounts to commit the tax fraud. Padula also committed bank fraud by carrying out a fraudulent short-sale transaction designed to reduce or eliminate his $1.5 million mortgage at Bank of America. Pursuant to his plea agreement, Padula was required to provide a full and accurate financial disclosure statement to the government. Instead Padula submitted a false financial disclosure statement in which he failed to disclose numerous assets, including a boat valued at almost $340,000, at least $80,000 in cash, and a $90,000 Mercedes he had recently purchased for his daughter.
JAT Comments:

1.  I suspect that some level of lying on the financial disclosure form is not uncommon.  (That happens on tax returns as well.)  And, as the saying goes, "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered"

Thursday, September 26, 2019

District Court Confuses Analysis in Approving Magistrate's R&R Imposing FBAR Willful Penalty (9/26/19)

I previously reported on the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation in United States v. Rum (M.D. Fla. No. 8:17-cv-826-T-35AEP). See Magistrate Recommends Sustaining Imposition of FBAR Willful Penalty (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 8/28/19), here.  Rum objected before the district court.  By order dated 9/26/19, the district court has confirmed and adopted the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation as part of the district court's order.  See Order, here.

The district court's order is short and fairly perfunctory. But, I do think the district court confused its analysis of what the Magistrate did.  In relevant part, the Magistrate found that (i) the summary judgment evidence was sufficient to grant judgment for the Government on the issue of willfulness and (ii) the administrative record was adequate to show that the IRS had not acted arbitrarily and capriciously under the APA in exercising its discretion in setting the amount of the willful FBAR penalty.

The district court,  however, seems to conflate the two issues.  Here is the key paragraph (with footnotes):
For this reason, too, Mr. Rum’s challenge to the Magistrate Judge’s decision on the basis that the Judge “Did Not Apply the Correct Standard of Review for A Motion for Summary Judgment” also fails. (Dkt. 72 at 19) Mr. Rum seems to suggest that the Magistrate Judge improperly engaged in fact-finding at the summary judgement stage of the case. (Dkt. 72 at 20) This assertion is plainly wrong. The Magistrate Judge was not making a de novo determination that Mr. Rum’s testimony was not credible or deciding whether Mr. Rum acted willfully. Rather, the Magistrate Judge reviewed the administrative record, as he was constrained to do, n1 to determine whether the record supported the Agency’s decision that Mr. Rum acted willfully. His evaluation of that record was sound, and his conclusion was correct. n2 
   n1 This disposes of Objection VII in which Rum suggests the Magistrate Judge committed error in declining to go outside the administrative record to consider his challenges to the Agency’s decision. (Dkt. 72 at 17-18) The Magistrate Judge correctly observed that “a court shall only review the record before it to ensure that the agency engaged in reasoned decision-making.” (Dkt. 71 at 20). The Supreme Court’s decision in Dep’t of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551 (2019), does not alter that longstanding precedent except in very limited circumstances not present on this record.
   n2 The remaining objections, not specifically addressed herein, are either bound up in the matters here discussed, or are just a rehash of arguments made in the summary judgment motion, which were thoroughly and correctly disposed of by the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation.
I have bold-faced the troubling analysis.  Under the Magistrate's R&R (and the law), the administrative record did not limit the scope of the inquiry on the issue of willfulness but rather only on the amount of the FBAR penalty over which the IRS had discretion.

For further information, I link here the Government's response brief on the objections to the R&R.

Monday, September 23, 2019

§ 7202 Convictions Reversed for Improper Bad Acts Evidence (9/23/19)

In United States v. Snyder, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 28326 (6th Cir. 9/19/19) (unpublished), here, Snyder fell into the not uncommon trap of using company (Attevo) withheld trust fund tax for purposes other than paying over to the IRS and went one step further by using funds that should have been deposited to employee 401(k) plans.  The company failed.  The trust fund tax was not paid.  Snyder was indicted "on seven counts of willfully failing to pay over taxes, see 26 U.S.C. § 7202, and one count of embezzling from an employee-benefit plan, see 18 U.S.C. § 664."  Snyder was acquitted on two § 7202 counts and convicted on the remaining counts.

On appeal, Snyder argued that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the introduction and use of evidence in closing argument that Snyder had failed to file personal tax returns for some number of years.  That evidence is so-called "bad acts" evidence that must run the gamut of FRE 404(b), which limits the use of such evidence, and 403, which requires exclusion of relevant evidence if prejudicial or confusing.  The court generalized the law as follows:
“The government may not use evidence of prior bad acts to show that a defendant’s character made him more likely to commit the charged crime.” United States v. English, 785 F.3d 1052, 1055 (6th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Evid. 404(b)(1). However, such evidence “may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving . . . intent . . . [or] absence of mistake.” Fed. R. Evid. 404(b)(2). Even if the evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b), the district court may still exclude it “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of,” among other things, “unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, [or] misleading the jury.” Fed. R. Evid. 403. 
Because the tax charges against Snyder are specific-intent offenses, this is the kind of case in which evidence of prior bad acts might be admissible. See United States v. Johnson, 27 F.3d 1186, 1191–92 (6th Cir. 1994). But that does not mean such evidence “is automatically admissible.” Id. at 1192 (emphasis added).  
Under Rule 404(b), prior bad acts are inadmissible if they “are too unrelated” to the charged conduct or “too far apart in time to be probative of” the defendant’s specific intent. United States v. Clay, 667 F.3d 689, 696 (6th Cir. 2012). Likewise, dissimilar or long-ago bad acts are usually inadmissible under Rule 403, because they have “a powerful impact on a juror’s mind” despite their “slim probative value.” Ibid. There is “too much of a risk that the jury will generalize from prior examples of bad character.” Id. at 697.
Bottom-line, the Court felt that the failure to file tax returns was too dissimilar to the crime of willful failure to pay over trust fund tax charged under § 7202.

Of course, admission of such evidence is reversible only if not harmless, as is often the case.  The Court seemed particularly troubled about the prosecutor's use of the evidence in closing argument:
If Pizzola’s testimony had amounted only to an isolated blurt, the error likely would have been harmless (as Snyder conceded at oral argument). But Pizzola’s comment was not the only reference to Snyder’s personal tax troubles: Terry, the other IRS witness, also testified about them. And to make matters worse, the government’s closing argument expressly invited the jury to make the propensity inference Rule 404(b) exists to prevent: “[Y]ou heard testimony that the defendant wasn’t even paying his own taxes. He’d done it before, and he was doing it this time.” The government’s misuse of the testimony makes it impossible to dismiss the erroneous admission of this evidence as harmless.
While the district court gave a limiting instruction, this is not “a sure-fire panacea for the prejudice resulting from the needless admission of” propensity evidence. United States v. Haywood, 280 F.3d 715, 724 (6th Cir. 2002). “As empirical studies have shown, evidence of prior bad acts influences factfinders even when the court gives a limiting instruction.” Clay, 667 F.3d at 697. A limiting instruction may be “insufficient to mitigate these potential risks,” and it does not preclude a new trial. Id. at 700–01. See also United States v. Jenkins, 345 F.3d 928, 939 (6th Cir. 2003).
 Accordingly, the Court vacated the § 7202 convictions but affirmed the embezzlement conviction.