Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tax Court Holds that IRS on Restitution Based Assessment Is Not Subject to Restitution Schedule Ordered by Sentencing Court (4/20/19)

In Carpenter v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. ___, No. 12 (2019), here, the Tax Court held (according to the syllabus):
P pleaded guilty to violating I.R.C. sec. 7206(1) by willfully filing false returns for 2005 and 2006. At sentencing, the District Court ordered P to pay restitution to the IRS, ordered that restitution was due immediately, and set a schedule of payments. The District Court also ordered that P pay all outstanding tax as an additional condition of his supervised release. Though P made each scheduled payment, he did not pay the full restitution amount. 
R assessed against P the full amount of restitution ordered in reliance on I.R.C. sec. 6201(a)(4). When P did not pay the assessed amount R began collection action. Before the first payment was due under the schedule set by the District Court, R sent a final notice of intent to levy and filed a notice of Federal tax lien. Following a CDP hearing IRS Appeals sustained the proposed collection actions. P contends that I.R.C. sec. 6201(a)(4) does not grant R independent administrative authority to collect amounts of criminal restitution. P also contends a schedule of restitution payments limits the amount R may administratively collect absent a further order by the sentencing court.  
Held: I.R.C. sec. 6201(a)(4) grants R independent authority to collect administratively amounts of criminal restitution assessed under that section.  
Held, further, a payment schedule included in an order for criminal restitution that is due immediately does not limit R’s authority to collect administratively unpaid amounts of such restitution. 
Held, further, Appeals did not abuse its discretion in sustaining the collection actions at issue. 
The following excerpt is important:
Petitioner failed to take advantage of the opportunities made available to him through the CDP hearing. During the CDP hearing petitioner was free to propose an installment agreement whereby he would potentially end up paying a relatively small amount per month. He might even have convinced the officer that he could in fact afford to pay no more than the $100 per month set forth in the sentencing court’s order. (Petitioner is not limited to the CDP hearing and may propose an installment payment agreement anytime. See sec. 6159). In order to secure a collection alternative like this, however, petitioner needed to do three things: (1) make an actual proposal of a collection alternative, (2) submit financial information establishing that this was all he could afford to pay, and (3) become current in his tax filing obligations. Petitioner did none of these things.  
Instead of making the required factual showings, petitioner took the extreme legal position that the IRS simply could not collect from him. That was a mistake. Petitioner, like any other taxpayer in a CDP case, must affirmatively establish what is his limited ability to pay. He cannot rely on the sentencing court’s payment plan to establish that for Federal income tax purposes. In rejecting his position, we are not ruling that the IRS can always levy to collect 100% of the restitution regardless of the taxpayer’s financial circumstances. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New Form 14457, Voluntary Disclosure Practice Preclearance Request and Application (4/16/19)

I have previously written on the IRS's revised Voluntary Disclosure Practice announced in November 2019.  See New IRS Voluntary Disclosure Procedures and Civil Resolution Framework (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 11/29/18; 11/30/18), here.  The announcement anticipated a revised Form 14457 (previously used for Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Procedure, OVDP) to be used for the general Voluntary Disclosure Practice.

The form is now out.  See Form 14457, Voluntary Disclosure Practice Preclearance Request and Application, here.  (The Form is a fillable pdf that may not show in some browsers and may need to be downloaded to actually view and fill out the form.)

The following are my quick observations.

1.  The Form consists of two Parts.  Part I is submitted as the request.  Part II is submitted after preclearance is granted.  The Form is for both domestic and offshore issues.

2.  General comments.  The disclosures required are quite robust and are of the type that can be databased with appropriate fields that will likely permit computer analytics in the process of identifying which disclosures may need extra attention by the IRS and permit some cross-checking for identified persons and entities.

3.  Part I Disclosures (L. refers to the numbered items, e.g.,L. 3):

a.  L. 3 asks for "Disclosure special features" with check boxes related to common types of noncompliance but with an  "Other Issues" check box that, if checked, need to provide a textual description.

b. LLs. 4-7 asks for detailed identity information for the taxpayer making the request plus any entities for whom the request is being made.

c.  L. 8 asks "Do you believe that the IRS has obtained information concerning your tax liability."  Since a taxpayer is not qualified for VDP if the IRS is already on the trail, this question is designed to flush out the taxpayer's knowledge about that early on.

d.  L. 9 asks "Disclose if you, your spouse or any related entities are currently under audit or criminal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service or any other law enforcement authority and if any income is sourced from an illegal activity."  This is a pretty broad question but seems to apply only to the spouse (not siblings, parents or children or others) and "related entities."  Related entities may need some definition, but certainly entities in which the taxpayer is title or beneficial owner would be included, although the quantum of the title or beneficial ownership relative to others is not stated.  Interestingly, the question as asked does not include related individuals (other than spouse), such as partners who, under prior iterations of the VDP might be a disqualified.

e.  L. 10 asks for a list of "ALL noncompliant financial accounts you owned or controlled or were the beneficial owner of, either directly or indirectly."  The period covered is the six year disclosure period.

f.  Interestingly, the taxpayer is not required on Part I to quantify the tax amounts involved.

4.  Part II Disclosures (to be completed only after preclearance based on Part I):

a.  L. 3 provides check boxes similar to Q. 3 of Part I.

b.  L. 4 asks if the taxpayer has taken a position that he or she was a bona fide resident of a U.S. territory (e.g., American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands) or did you file an income tax return with a U.S. territory?" and explain if yes.

c.  Ls. 5&6 ask about the quantum of unreported income and graduated brackets (e.g., 0-$50,000, $50,000 to $100,000, etc.) and for the high aggregated balance in offshore accounts.

d.  L. 7 for Offshore Issues only asks about "anyone including a foreign government or a foreign financial institution" advised the taxpayer "that your offshore account records, which are the subject of this voluntary disclosure, were susceptible to being turned over to the U.S. Government pursuant to an official request?"  If yes, then the taxpayer must disclose whether anyone submitted documents in opposition to disclosure and notified the Attorney general as required by 18 USC §3506.

e.  L. 8 requires, for the disclosure period, a list of ALL entities you owned or controlled or were the beneficial owner of, either directly or indirectly for which you reported noncompliant financial accounts in the Part I preclearance request.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Article on Commissioner Rettig Comments on College Admission Scandal (4/13/19)

Laura Davison, IRS Head Says College Admission Scandal Parents May Face Hefty Tax Bills (Bloomberg News 4/10/19), here

Excerpts:
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig told the Senate Finance Committee his agency anticipates that “numerous other individuals” will be charged with criminal tax violations as a result of the investigation into alleged bribes paid to test examiners and college sports coaches to guarantee spots for students at elite U.S. universities. 
People charged with criminal tax violations could be required to correct their tax returns and pay back taxes, plus interest and penalties, Rettig told the panel Wednesday. Many tax crimes carry a maximum five-year prison term and a fine of $100,000. Fines for civil tax violations can run as high as 75 percent of the unpaid tax, plus interest. 
Last month, 33 parents were charged with conspiring with college admissions strategist and confessed ringleader William Rick Singer to pay $25 million in bribes to entrance exam administrators, a surrogate test-taker and university sports coaches to get their children into Yale, Georgetown, Stanford and other exclusive schools. 
The U.S. alleges that some parents made payments to Singer through the nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation, which they claimed as charitable contributions to get a tax deduction. 
* * * * 
The IRS’s criminal investigations unit initiated about 3,000 cases in 2017, according to agency statistics. About 66 percent of the cases it completed that year resulted in jail time for the defendant.

JAT Comments:

1.  I doubt that all of the persons who played some role in the college admission scandal will be prosecuted for crimes (either tax or other crimes).  I am sure the detailed facts will show some type of spectrum -- from the worst offenders to the less culpable offenders.  The less culpable offenders while perhaps prosecutable may be able to avoid criminal prosecution because the Government will -- at least should -- focus prosecution and systemic resources on the more culpable.

2.  The civil tax consequences, though, could be significant for all of the culpable actors and the less culpable may not be able to avoid those.  The civil tax consequences are the tax arising from the improper charitable contributions, civil fraud penalty (75%), and interest on both from the due date off the return(s).  Some, perhaps, on the less culpable end of the scale might avoid the civil fraud penalty because of the high burden the Government must bear (clear and convincing evidence of fraud), but would be liable for the accuracy related penalty (20% to 40%, depending upon how the "contribution" was structured).

3.  I also included the excerpt on the IRS CI statistics above showing about 2/3 of cases that the IRS CI "completed" resulted in incarceration.  I have not tried to break the statistic down, but I infer that "completed" means forwarded to DOJ Tax with a recommendation for prosecution (or perhaps the IRS recommended prosecution after further grand jury work).  Then, of course, not all IRS CI recommendations for prosecution result in DOJ Tax seeking indictment.  I do not recall the statistics, but perhaps 10% of IRS CI recommendations are not prosecuted.  So, those that are prosecuted have a higher percentage incarcerated than 66%.  And, of the number that are not incarcerated, we don't have the breakdown between between (i) those who were prosecuted and acquitted and (ii) those who were prosecuted, convicted but received no incarceration.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

GAO Report on Foreign Asset Reporting and Related Issues (4/4/19)

GAO Released this report:  Foreign Asset Reporting, Actions Needed to Enhance Compliance Efforts, Eliminate Overlapping Requirements, and Mitigate Burdens on U.S. Persons Abroad (GAO-19-180 April 2019), here.

Excerpts from opening summary:
What GAO Found 
Data quality and management issues have limited the effectiveness of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) efforts to improve taxpayer compliance using foreign financial asset data collected under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Specifically, IRS has had difficulties matching the information reported by foreign financial institutions (FFI) with U.S. taxpayers’ tax filings due to missing or inaccurate Taxpayer Identification Numbers provided by FFIs.  Further, IRS lacks access to consistent and complete data on foreign financial assets and other data reported in tax filings by U.S. persons, in part, because some IRS databases do not store foreign asset data reported from paper filings.  IRS has also stopped pursuing a comprehensive plan to leverage FATCA data to improve taxpayer compliance because, according to IRS officials, IRS moved away from updating broad strategy documents to focus on individual compliance  campaigns. Ensuring access to consistent and complete data collected from U.S. persons—and employing a plan to leverage such data—would help IRS better  leverage such campaigns and increase taxpayer compliance. 
Due to overlapping statutory reporting requirements, IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—both within the Department of the Treasury (Treasury)—collect duplicative foreign financial account and other asset information from U.S. persons. Consequently, in tax years 2015  and 2016, close to 75 percent of U.S. persons who reported information on foreign accounts and other assets on their tax returns also filed a separate form with FinCEN. The overlapping requirements increase the compliance burden on U.S. persons and add complexity that can create confusion, potentially resulting in inaccurate or unnecessary reporting. Modifying the statutes governing the requirements to allow for the sharing of FATCA information for the prevention and detection of financial crimes would eliminate the need for duplicative reporting. This is similar to other statutory allowances for IRS to disclose return information for other purposes, such as for determining Social Security income tax withholding. 
According to documents GAO reviewed, and focus groups and interviews GAO conducted, FFIs closed some U.S. persons’ existing accounts or denied them opportunities to open new accounts after FATCA was enacted due to increased costs, and risks they pose under FATCA reporting requirements. According to Department of State (State) data, annual approvals of renunciations of U.S. citizenship increased from 1,601 to 4,449—or nearly 178 percent—from 2011 through 2016, attributable in part to the difficulties cited above.  
Treasury previously established joint strategies with State to address challenges U.S. persons faced in accessing foreign financial services. However, it lacks a collaborative mechanism to coordinate efforts with other agencies to address ongoing challenges in accessing such services or obtaining Social Security Numbers. Implementation of a formal means to collaboratively address burdens faced by Americans abroad from FATCA can help federal agencies develop more effective solutions to mitigate such burdens by monitoring and sharing information on such issues, and jointly developing and implementing steps to address them. 
The following is from the Background (some footnotes omitted):

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Senate Finance Committee Begins Investigation of Abusive Conservation Easement Appraisals (4/2/19)

The Senate Finance Committee Chair and Ranking Member announced here that they have started
an investigation into the potential abuse of syndicated conservation easement transactions, which may have allowed some taxpayers to profit from gaming the tax code and deprived the federal government of billions of dollars in revenue. For several years now, the IRS has been investigating these transactions. They appear to involve promoters selling interests in tracts of land to taxpayers looking for large tax deductions. In such an arrangement, the taxpayers then get inflated appraisals of those tracts of land and grant conservation easements on that land. The resulting inflated charitable deductions are then split among the taxpayers.
The SFC sent letters to 14 "individuals who appear to be associated with these investor groups that might have unfairly profited from conservation easements."  The names are listed on the press release.

I have written on conservation easement bullshit tax shelters:
  • Peter Reilly on Conservation Easement Donations as Bullshit Tax Shelters (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/24/17), here.
  • IRS Designates Syndications Exploiting Improper Valuations for Conservation Easement Deductions (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/2/17), here.
Peter Reilly has a very good update on this development:  Peter J. Reilly, Grassley Wyden Take On Sketchy Conservation Tax Shelters (Forbes 3/28/19), here.

The type of investigation appears somewhat like the investigations by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, see here.  Criminal investigations sometimes are in process when such investigations occur or, as I think occurred in the KPMG situation, arose from the commotion of the investigation.

Robert H. Jackson's Famous Speech on the Role of the Prosecutor (4/2/19)

I am on the "Jackson List," an email list by Professor John Q. Barrett, here, who studies and writes about Robert H. Jackson, former Assistant Attorney General (Tax and Antitrust), then Attorney General, then Supreme Court Justice, from which he took a break to be the Chief United States Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II.  (Jackson's Wikipedia page is here.

Today, Professor Barrett sent the list Jackson's famous speech of April 1, 1940 titled "The Federal Prosecutor."  Well worth a read, so I pass it on.

The Federal Prosecutor

By Robert H. Jackson
Attorney General of the United States
April 1, 1940

            It would probably be within the range of that exaggeration permitted in Washington to say that assembled in this room is one of the most powerful peace-time forces known to our country.  The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.  His discretion is tremendous.  He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations.  Or the prosecutor may choose a more subtle course and simply have a citizen’s friends interviewed.  The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial.  He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard.  Or he may go on with a public trial.  If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole.  While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.

            These powers have been granted to our law-enforcement agencies because it seems necessary that such a power to prosecute be lodged somewhere.  This authority has been granted by people who really wanted the right thing done—wanted crime eliminated—but also wanted the best in our American traditions preserved.

            Because of this immense power to strike at citizens, not with mere individual strength, but with all the force of government itself, the post of Federal District Attorney from the very beginning has been safeguard by presidential appointment, requiring confirmation of the Senate of the United States.  You are thus required to win an expression of confidence in your character by both the legislative and the executive branches of the government before assuming the responsibilities of a federal prosecutor.

            Your responsibility in your several districts for law enforcement and for its methods cannot be wholly surrendered to Washington, and ought not to be assumed by a centralized Department of Justice.  It is an unusual and rare instance in which the local District Attorney should be superseded in the handling of litigation, except where he requests help of Washington.  It is also clear that with his knowledge of local sentiment and opinion, his contact with and intimate knowledge of the views of the court, and his acquaintance with the feelings of the group from which jurors are drawn, it is an unusual case in which his judgment should be overruled.

            Experience, however, has demonstrated that some measure of centralized control is necessary.  In the absence of it different district attorneys were striving for different interpretations or applications of an Act, or were pursuing different conceptions of policy.  Also, to put it mildly, there were differences in the degree of diligence and zeal in different districts.  To promote uniformity of policy and action, to establish some standards of performance, and to make available specialized help, some degree of centralized administration was found necessary.

            Our problem, of course, is to balance these opposing considerations.  I desire to avoid any lessening of the prestige and influence of the district attorneys in their districts.  At the same time we must proceed in all districts with that uniformity of policy which is necessary to the prestige of federal law.

            Nothing better can come out of this meeting of law enforcement officers than a rededication to the spirit of fair play and decency that should animate the federal prosecutor.  Your positions are of such independence and importance that while you are being diligent, strict, and vigorous in law enforcement you can also afford to be just.  Although the government technically loses its case, it has really won if justice has been done.  The lawyer in public office is justified in seeking to leave behind him a good record.  But he must remember that his most alert and severe, but just, judges will be the members of his own profession, and that lawyers rest their good opinion of each other not merely on results accomplished but on the quality of the performance.  Reputation has been called “the shadow cast by one’s daily life.”  Any prosecutor who risks his day-to-day professional name for fair dealing to build up statistics of success has a perverted sense of practical values, as well as defects of character.  Whether one seeks promotion to a judgeship, as many prosecutors rightly do, or whether he returns to private practice, he can have no better asset than to have his profession recognize that his attitude toward those who feel his power has been dispassionate, reasonable and just.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

9th Circuit Affirms Convictions for Tax Perjury, § 7206(1) (3/27/19)

In United States v. Hardy, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 8336 (9th Cir. 2019) (unpublished), here and here, the Court affirmed the Hardy's conviction for three counts of tax perjury, § 7206(1).  The opinion is short and to the point (just over 3 pages).  Students and new tax crimes enthusiasts likely would enjoy the read, because it is informative as to some basic points.

I just pick two to cut and paste:
1. "Good faith reliance on a qualified accountant has long been a defense to willfulness in cases of tax fraud and evasion." United States v. Bishop, 291 F.3d 1100, 1106 (9th Cir. 2002). We have made clear, however, that if "the trial court adequately instructs on specific intent, the failure to give an additional instruction on good faith reliance upon expert advice is not reversible error." United States v. Dorotich, 900 F.2d 192, 194 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The district court adequately instructed the jury on specific intent, telling it that the government was required to prove both specific intent and that Hardy did not have a good faith belief that he was complying with the law. The district court therefore did not abuse its discretion by declining to give Hardy's requested instruction about reliance on the advice of an accountant. 
* * * * 
5. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial after its post-verdict dismissal, at the government's request, of Hardy's conviction for one count of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the due administration of the internal revenue laws, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a). The court appropriately rejected Hardy's argument that "spillover" evidence from the dismissed count tainted the convictions on the false tax return counts. See United States v. Lazarenko, 564 F.3d 1026, 1043-44 (9th Cir. 2009) (listing relevant factors). The court's instructions—a "critical factor," id. at 1043—delineated the different elements of each charged offense. And, the jury, although returning guilty verdicts on four of the counts in the indictment, acquitted on the remaining count. "The fact that the jury rendered selective verdicts is highly indicative of its ability to compartmentalize the evidence." United States v. Cuozzo, 962 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1992).
 I presume that the dismissal of the tax obstruction, § 7212(a), discussed in paragraph 5 was because of the lack of proof of nexus to an investigation.

11th Circuit Affirms Convictions of Promoters of Insurance Premium Scam Bullshit Tax Shelter (3/27/19)

In United States v. Donaldson, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 8684 (11th Cir. 2019) (unpublished), here and here, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's convictions of Dionaldson and Crithfield for conspiring to defraud the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 371, and willfully aiding the submission of false and fraudulent income tax returns, 26 U.S.C § 7206(2).  Basically, they sold their clients bullshit tax shelters in the guise of a Business Protection Plan (BPP). Essentially, the customers would pay purported business insurance premiums, purportedly deductible for tax purposes, for a plan that was not insurance but returned most of the "premiums" to the clients, less the promoter's rake off.  I have previously written on the prosecutions and convictions.  Bench Trial Convictions on Offshore Business Insurance Scams (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/13/17), here.  That prior blog entry contains much of the detail for better understanding the scam.

The Court of Appeals held:

1. The evidence was sufficient to support the convictions, going through the facts and the elements of the crimes of conviction. The essential holding on appeal was that the BPP was a substantive sham and the defendants were willful in promoting the sham, thus supporting the conviction for the defraud conspiracy (18 USC § 371)  and aiding and assisting (§ 7206(2)).

2.  The District Court did not improperly deny the motion for acquittal or new trial.  The claim asserted on this basis related to Donaldson.  Donaldson claimed that the district court had improperly "persuaded" him not to call a witness, a lawyer who gave an opinion supporting the BPP, who might have supported his reliance on counsel defense.  The actual opinion was in evidence.  The judge simply stated, after admitting the opinion, what the lawyer's testimony would add.  Donaldson's lawyer then made a strategy decision not to call the lawyer as a witness.  No error there.  The Court of Appeals discussion includes this:
Moreover, the district court did not find, as Donaldson suggests, that the coverages offered within the BPP were superfluous for all purposes. Rather, the district court found that the coverages were superfluous for the specific customers who bought them, including one doctor's office that purchased wholly unnecessary insurance for protection against international kidnapping.
3.  The District Court properly rejected the appellants' motion to suppress evidence seized by search warrant.

JAT Comment: All in all, a fairly routine case which is why, I suppose, the opinion is nonprecedential.  However, for those wanting more about the case, please go to the prior blog linked above discussing the bench opinion convicting the defendants/appellants.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

TRAC Report on Sentencing Discretion and Disparity (3/21/19)

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse ("TRAC"), a great resource for information about the federal government (see here), has this offering, here, from yesterday, titled Seeing Justice Done: The Impact of the Judge on Sentencing.  Key excerpt:
The recent sentencing of Paul Manafort by federal judges in two different district courts has renewed interest in the sentencing practices of individual judges. Countless studies over the years have documented a basic fact: while decisions should be determined by the law and the facts, in reality there is a third very important force at work. This ingredient is the identity of the judge assigned to a given case. Again and again, court records show that the particular predilections of individual judges influence the legal decisions that they reach, including those involving sentences.
The posting has further analysis for sentencing and some good lengths.

I do want to emphasize that "particular predilections of individual judges" do affect the range of legal decisions judges reach.  Judges do not simply call balls and strikes within a well-defined strike zone (as Justice Roberts famously claimed).  Judges often, with little review, define the strike zones in ways to permit them to call balls and strikes as they wish.

I do not mean this as an indictment of the judiciary.  I think it is inevitable that giving the judge the leeway to do justice rather than simply call balls and strikes within well previously defined strike zones will also give judges some ability to do great mischief.

As to sentencing in particular, the Sentencing Guidelines were intended to narrow the range of a judge's discretion and bring some nationwide uniformity in sentencing.  The TRAC posting says:
The existence of judge-to-judge differences in sentences of course is not synonymous with finding unwarranted disparity in sentencing practices. A key requirement for achieving justice is that the judges in a court system have sufficient discretion to consider the totality of circumstances in deciding that a sentence in a specific case is just. No set of rules, including the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, can substitute for this necessary flexibility. 
But a fair court system always seeks to provide equal justice under the law, working to ensure that  sentencing patterns of judges not be widely different when they are handling similar kinds of cases.
After Booker, though, we are essentially back in the pre-Guidelines world where a judge can do what he or she wants so long the Guidelines calculation is correct and the judge states rather minimal reasons for variance from the Guidelines sufficient to avoid abuse of discretion review on appeal (if appealed).  I think that there should be some strengthening of the role of the Guidelines because, simply, justice should not depend upon which judge imposes the sentence.

And, of course that does not address the predilections that affect the outcome of the other decisions a judge makes in a case.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eighth Circuit Affirms Tax Obstruction Conviction without Proper Marinello Jury Instructions (3/20/19)

In United States v. Beckham, ___ F.3d ___, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6964 (8th Cir. 2019), here, the Court affirmed Beckham's conviction for tax obstruction, § 7212(a).  Beckham had been charged also with three counts of aiding and assisting, § 7206(2), but was acquitted of those counts.  So the only count of conviction was tax obstruction.

The facts in chronological order are:
  • Beckham allegedly induced a taxpayer (Horseman) to participate in a tax loss scheme to offset the taxpayer's taxes.  Basically, the scheme was to generate false deductions by appearing to have a large investment in a business entity producing losses and to claim those losses as nonpassive losses despite not materially participating in the business.  The IRS began an audit.  Beckham filed power of attorney to represent the taxapyer, representing that he was a licensed  CPA but in fact he was not licensed because of a mail fraud conviction.
  • The agent asked Beckham for documents supporting the taxpayer's material participation in the business.  Beckham responded with the taxpayer's day planner showing hundred of hours work in the business. 
  • The agent then discovered that Beckham was not a licensed CPA as he had represented.  Beckham said that he was in the process of getting his license renewed.
  • The agent then discovered that the taxpayer had not made the claimed large investment in the business generating the losses that he claimed on the returns.
  • Suspecting fraud, the agent referred the taxpayer to IRS CI.  IRS CI then added Beckham as a target.  Beckham was then indicted for tax obstruction and aiding and assisting.
  • The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Marinello case to resolve a circuit conflict as to whether tax obstruction required that, in committing alleged obstructive acts, the defendant know of nexus to a pending IRS investigation.
  • The case went to trial before the Supreme Court's decision in Marinello.  So, the jury instructions were framed without that decision.  But, at the Government's request, the trial court decided to use a special verdict form asking the jury whether the defendant had committed a corrupt act after becoming aware of the audit.  Here is the description of the instruction conference:
At the instruction conference, Beckham objected to Jury Instruction 9—the instruction on the § 7212(a) offense—because it did not require the jury to find that he knew about the IRS audit at the time that he committed a corrupt act. He also argued that the special verdict form—which directed the jurors, if they found Beckham guilty of that offense, to indicate whether Beckham committed "at least one corrupt act after becoming aware of the existence of an Internal Revenue Service audit or proceeding[,]" see Proposed Jury Instructions 25, Dist. Ct. Dkt. 96, and, if so, to identify which corrupt act they unanimously agreed Beckham committed after learning of the proceeding—did not cure the faulty instruction. Beckham did not, however, specifically object to the language of the special verdict form. The district court overruled his objection.
  • The instructions thus did not include the key element later required by Marinello.
  • The jury convicted of tax obstruction.  "On the special verdict form, the jury indicated that it found Beckham committed at least one corrupt act after learning of the audit and that it unanimously agreed Beckham committed the acts alleged in paragraph 10 of the Superseding Indictment—submitting Horseman's day planner to the IRS—after learning of the audit."
  • The Supreme Court then decided Marinello, holding, as described by the Court.  
Six months after Beckham's trial, the Supreme Court decided Marinello v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 1101, 200 L. Ed. 2d 356 (2018). The Court held that, for a § 7212(a) offense, "the Government must show . . . that there is a 'nexus' between the defendant's conduct and a particular administrative proceeding[.]" Marinello, 138 S. Ct. at 1109. Further, that proceeding must be "reasonably foreseeable by the defendant" at the time he acted. Id. at 1110. Because "[i]t is not enough for the Government to claim that the defendant knew the IRS may catch on to his unlawful scheme eventually[,]" if the proceeding is currently pending, the defendant must be aware of that proceeding. Id.
Based on Marinello, the Government conceded that the jury instruction omitting the element of nexus to a known audit was error, but "that the district court cured the instructional error through the use of a special verdict form and that, even if the special verdict form did not cure the error, the error was harmless."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bank Hapaolim Increases Its Reserve for U.S. DOJ Tax Investigation (3/19/19)

Israel's Bank Hapoalim Q4 net profit sinks on U.S. tax probe provision (Reuters 3/18/19), here.  Excerpt:
The bank said earlier this month it would set aside an additional $246 million in the quarter to cover a possible future settlement regarding an investigation of the bank’s business with U.S. clients. This provision will bring its total provisions to $611 million.
The excerpt does not state specifically that the $611 million relates to the U.S.tax  investigation, but that is the inference.  (See also the relative numbers reported Bank Hapoalim 2018 results: profits dip on US probe provision (Retail Banker International 3/18/19), here.)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

DOJ Tax and Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd. (Israel) Reach DPA (3/13/19)

DOJ Tax announced here the DPA with Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd., (Mizrahi-Tefahot) and its subsidiaries.  I have not been able to find the underlying documents, but from the Press Release, I think the following are the key items:
  • "In the DPA and related court documents, Mizrahi-Tefahot admitted that from 2002 until 2012 the actions of its bankers, relationship managers, and other employees defrauded the United States and specifically the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with respect to taxes by conspiring with U.S. taxpayer-customers and others. Mizrahi-Tefahot employees’ acts of opening and maintaining bank accounts in Israel and elsewhere around the world and violating Mizrahi-Tefahot’s Qualified Intermediary Agreement (QI Agreement) with the IRS enabled U.S. taxpayers to hide income and assets from the IRS."  [This apparently is the defraud / Klein conspiracy.]
  • Mizrahi admits the standard range of conduct by foreign banks playing in this field.
  • "The DPA also requires Mizrahi-Tefahot and its subsidiaries affirmatively to disclose certain material information it may later uncover regarding U.S.-related accounts, as well as to disclose certain information consistent with the Department’s Swiss Bank Program with respect to accounts closed between Jan. 1, 2009, and October 2017."  [For that reason, I have included Mizrahi in the Category 1 for the DOJ Swiss Bank Program; Mizrahi is not technically within the program but did have a Swiss subsidiary.]
  • Mizrahi will pay $195 million total, consisting of "1) restitution in the amount of $53 million, representing the approximate unpaid pecuniary loss to the United States as a result of the criminal conduct; 2) disgorgement in the amount of $24 million, representing the approximate gross fees paid to the bank by U.S. taxpayers with undeclared accounts at the bank from 2002 through 2012; and 3) a fine of $118 million."
DOJ Tax had previously offered $342 Million to settle:  Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Rejects DOJ $342 Million Settlement Offer for NPA (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 8/10/18), here.

US DOJ Swiss Bank Program
Number
Resolved
Total Costs
   U.S. / Swiss Bank Initiative Category 1 (Criminal Inv.) *
19
9
$4,376,733,560
   U.S. / Swiss Bank Initiative Category 2
87
81
$1,368,983,990
   U.S. / Swiss Bank Initiative Category 3
13
$0
   U.S. / Swiss Bank Initiative Category 4
8
$0
Swiss Bank Program Results
127
$5,745,717,550
* Number and Number Resolved may not be same as DOJ and IRS numbers because of how related entities were counted; the Total Costs Column should be consistent.
Recoveries from Swiss Financial and Related Institutions (per above)
$5,745,717,550
Recoveries from NonSwiss Offshore Financial and Related Institutions
$298,770,542
Recoveries from All Offshore Financial and Related Institutions
$6,044,488,092


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

On the Manafort Sentences and Tax Crimes Sentencing (3/13/19)

I have hesitated to write on the Manafort sentencing principally because, although Manafort was convicted of tax crimes and FBAR crime that may related somewhat to tax crimes, the gravamen of the cases against him involved nontax offenses that most would consider more serious than the tax offenses.  His sentences in both cases reflected the more serious offenses.  So, I am not sure what I could  offer readers interested in criminal tax sentencing. 

I think both judges likely acted within the scope of their considerable discretion to sentence outside the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range. 

I post below some of the better discussions of which I am  aware:

  • Douglas A. Berman, Rounding up some of many thoughts about Paul Manafort's (first) federal sentence (Sentencing Law and Policy Blog 3/10/19), here.  (This posting has further links.)
  • Douglas A. Berman, Paul Manafort given (only?) 47 months in prison at first federal sentencing ((Sentencing Law and Policy Blog 3/7/19), here.

Now, on Tax Crimes sentencing specifically, I recommend Robert Horwitz's blog entry analyzing tax sentencing statistics:

  • Robert S. Horwitz, Sentencing in Criminal Tax Cases: It’s Not What You Think (Taxlitigator.com Blog 2/26/19), here.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Court Affirms Defraud Conspiracy Conviction; Rejects Lesser Included Offense Argument (3/7/19)

In United States v. Bradley, ___ F.3d ___, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6258 (6th Cir. 2019), here, the court affirmed Bradley's defraud conspiracy conviction.  Bradley made three arguments on appeal: (i) constructive amendment or variance to the indictment; (ii) improper argument by the prosecutor that misstated the Government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and (iii) failure to give a lesser included offense instruction.

I will not discuss the first two issues, but those with the time might want to look particularly at the improper argument issue where the Court found the arguments improper but not prejudicial.  The Court's discussion (including quotes from the argument) is on Slip Op. 12-16.

Now, looking at the lesser included offense issue, Bradley was convicted of the defraud conspiracy which, under the conspiracy statute (18 USC 371) is a felony.  Remember that the conspiracy statute has two types of conspiracy -- the offense conspiracy to commit a specific offense otherwise criminalize and the defraud conspiracy (also called Klein conspiracy) to impair or impede the functions of the IRS through fraud or deceit.  Bradley was charged with the felony defraud conspiracy.  He wanted an instruction on the offense conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor offense (§§ 7203 and 7204).  The felony statute says that a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

The Sixth Circuit stated its lesser included offense requirements as requiring:
(1) a proper request is made; (2) the elements of the lesser offense are identical to part of the elements of the greater offense; (3) the evidence would support a conviction on the lesser offense; and (4) the proof on the element or elements differentiating the two crimes is sufficiently disputed so that a jury could consistently acquit on the greater offense and convict on the lesser.
The Court analyzed the 2d requirement (Slip. Op. 17, cleaned up):
The second criterion of the lesser-included offense analysis requires us to determine whether the elements of the lesser offense are identical to part of the elements of the greater offense. Bradley was charged and convicted for conspiring to defraud the United States—the proposed greater offense. The elements of conspiracy to defraud the United States that the district court charged to the jury are: (1) that two or more persons conspired, or agreed, to defraud the United States, or one of its agencies or departments, by dishonest means, (2) that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy, and (3) that a member of the conspiracy did one of the overt acts described in the indictment for the purpose of advancing or helping the conspiracy. The elements of the proposed lesser offense of conspiracy to fail to file W-2s would presumably be: (1) an agreement to fail to file W-2s; (2) one or more overt acts in furtherance of that illegal purpose; and (3) the intent to fail to file W-2s. Similarly, the elements of the lesser offense of conspiracy to fail to issue Form 1099s would be (1) an agreement to fail to issue Form 1099s; (2) one or more overt acts in furtherance of that illegal purpose; and (3) the intent to fail to issue Form 1099s.
Ultimately, though, the Court did not resolve the issue on the merits because Bradley had forfeited the argument because he had not properly presented or preserved the issue.

I think that this is a good reminder that when the Government charges a felony conspiracy (I don't recall it charging a misdemeanor conspiracy), counsel should think creatively about a lesser included offense charge that will permit a jury a way to compromise if the binary choice of guilty or not guilty is not palatable to the jury.  Of course, if the jury with only a binary choice would tilt toward not guilty, a defendant would not want the lesser included offense charge.  But, if the jury would tilt toward guilt, the defendant would want the charge to mitigate the damage.  And, reading the jury's mind on that can be vexing.

District Court Rejects Argument that Marinello Applies to Defraud / Klein Conspiracy (3/7/19)

In United States v. Parlato, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33035 (W.D. NY 2019), here, the Court rejected Parato's argument that the Supreme Court's decision in Marinello v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S. Ct. 1101 (2018), limiting tax obstruction (§ 7212(a)) could similarly limit the defraud / Klein conspiracy.  The opinion is short so I do not further attempt to summarize it.  The underlying Magistrate report and recommendation is here.

Prior blog entries on this issue include the following (reverse chronological order):

  • Two Cases Involving Marinello (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/15/19), here.
  • What Are the Implications for Marinello on the Defraud / Klein Conspiracy? (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/24/18), here.
  • More on the Marinello Transcript of Oral Argument (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 12/9/17), here.
  • First Comments on the Marinello Oral Argument Transcript (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 12/6/17), here.

District Court Approves FBAR Willful Penalties Under Post 2004 Law; Rejects Colliot and Wadhan (3/7/19)

In United States v. Garrity, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32404 (D. Conn. 2019), here, the Court rejected the argument that the FBAR willful penalty was subject to the pre-2004 statutory amendment maximum amount of $100,000 because the IRS had not changed the regulations.  In effect, the Court rejected the district court holdings in Colliot and Wadhan as have courts since those cases.  The Garrity opinion cites the decided cases in footnote 2 on page 2.

Other Comments:

1.  Judge Shea rejects the argument that the FBAR willful penalty was an excessive fine violating the Eighth Amendment (Slip Op. 11-20).  Judge Shea offers a very thoughtful and persuasive analysis, one of the better that I have seen.

2.  The only other parts of the opinion that particularly attracted my attention were the following:
Slip Op. p. 7 n. 4 
   n4 Thus, one of the premises of the decision in Colliot, on which the Defendants rely, is incorrect.  There, the court emphasized that Treasury was bound by the 1987 regulation because it had been promulgated through notice and comment and could only be repealed through notice and comment. Colliot, 2018 WL 2271381, at *2–3 (W.D. Tex. May 16, 2018). As noted above, the August 1986 notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register makes no reference to  the civil penalty provision for account holders, which was not authorized by Congress until two months later. The penalty provision was added to the final rule without notice and comment procedures. The civil penalty provision in the 1987 regulation was at most an interpretive rule based on a now-obsolete version of the statute. 
Slip Op. 10-11: 
Ultimately, the Defendants' reliance on these regulatory actions (or inactions) is misplaced. As noted above, the civil FBAR penalty provision in the 1987 regulation was an interpretive rule that lacked the "force and effect of law." See Perez, 135 S. Ct. at 1203-04. It did not create or expand account holders' rights, and it merely parroted a statute that has now been amended. No amount of "reaffirming" references of the sort Defendants point to can make it an operative limit on the Secretary's current authority. If the Secretary wanted to categorically limit his discretion to impose FBAR penalties above $100,000 after Congress conferred such authority on him by statute, he could do so, if at all, only through notice and comment rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, clearly indicating his intent to surrender by regulation some of the authority Congress has bestowed on him. See id. ("Rules issued through the notice-and-comment process are often referred to as legislative rules because they have the force and effect of law."); 5 U.S.C. § 553(b) (requiring notice of proposed rulemaking to include "either the terms or substance of the proposed rule or a description of the subjects and issues involved."). It is undisputed that he has not taken such a step.

Tenth Circuit Affirms Summons Enforcement Against Medical Marijuana Business Regarding Section 280E (3/7/19)

Section 280E, here, denies a deduction for expenses of a trade or business which "consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted."  I wrote recently about the denial of such expenses in Feinberg v. Commissioner, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 5618 (10th Cir. 2019), here.  See Taxpayers Fail to Prove Expenses of Medical Marijuana Business Deductible; Burden of Proof Does Not Violate Fifth Amendment Privilege (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/2/19), here.

The Tenth Circuit has another significant opinion related to Section 280E.  In High Desert Relief v. United States, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 6609 (10th Cir. 2019), here, the Court addressed the issue in a contentious summons enforcement proceeding where HDR tried to thread the needle to duck the consequences of Section 280E.  The Court provides a good summary in the opening paragraphs:
This case arises out of the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to investigate the tax liability of High Desert Relief, Inc. (“HDR”), a medical marijuana dispensary in New Mexico. The IRS began an investigation into whether HDR had improperly paid its taxes, and specifically whether it had improperly taken deductions for business expenses that arose from a “trade or business” that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” 26 U.S.C. § 280E. Because HDR refused to furnish the IRS with requested audit information, the IRS issued four summonses to third parties in an attempt to obtain the relevant materials by other means. 
HDR filed separate petitions to quash these third-party summonses in federal district court in the District of New Mexico, and the government filed corresponding counterclaims seeking enforcement of the summonses. HDR argued that the summonses were issued for an improper purpose—specifically, that the IRS, in seeking to determine the applicability of 26 U.S.C. § 280E, was mounting a de facto criminal investigation pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), 21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq.  
HDR also asserted that enforcement of § 280E was improper because an “official [federal] policy of non-enforcement” of the CSA against medical marijuana dispensaries had rendered that statute’s proscription on marijuana trafficking a “dead letter” incapable of engendering adverse tax consequences for HDR. Aplt.’s Opening Br. at 30. The petitions were resolved in proceedings before two different district court judges. Both judges ruled in favor of the United States on the petitions to quash, and separately granted the United States’ motions to enforce the summonses. HDR challenges these rulings on appeal. 
Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.
As readers know, the IRS's summons power to investigate tax matters is very broad.  United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48 (1964).  So, most contests in summons cases are resolved in favor of the IRS.  (One recent victory for the taxpayers was in J.B. v. United States, --- F.3d ----, 2019 WL 923717 at *1 (9th Cir. 2019), here, dealing with the IRS's failure to satisfy the notice requirement for third party contacts.  See Leslie Book, Ninth Circuit Rejects IRS’s Approach to Notifying Taxpayers of Third Party Contacts (Procedurally Taxing Blog 3/4/19), here; in HDR, the Tenth Circuit rejects (Slip Op. pp. 46-47) HDR's similar argument that the IRS did not give the required notice.)

Key points in getting to the bottom line:

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Taxpayers Fail to Prove Expenses of Medical Marijuana Business Deductible; Burden of Proof Does Not Violate Fifth Amendment Privilege (3/2/19)

In Feinberg v. Commissioner, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 5618 (10th Cir. 2019), here, the taxpayers were shareholders in an LLC selling medical marijuana.  Their sales were legal under state law, but illegal under federal law.  The issue was whether they bore the burden of proving that they were entitled to deductions related to the business.  Section 280E provides:
No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.
The Court held that the taxpayers bore the burden of establish their entitlement to the deductions over the taxpayers objection that the assignment of the burden violated their Fifth Amendment privilege.  (There were some other procedures discussed such as substantiation burden shifted to the IRS because new matter, but this is the point I want to address.)

Here is the key part of the opinion (cleaned up and footnotes omitted)
The Taxpayers fail to explain how requiring them to bear the burden of proving the IRS erred in applying § 280E to calculate their civil tax liability is a form of compulsion equivalent to a statute that imposes criminal liability for failing to provide information subjecting the party to liability under another criminal statute. Here, the Taxpayers must choose between providing evidence that they are not engaged in the trafficking of a controlled substance or forgoing the tax deductions available by the grace of Congress. In the cases cited by the Taxpayers, the petitioners were faced with a choice of whether to be prosecuted criminally because they did not provide the information, or to be prosecuted criminally because they did. The circumstances are easily distinguishable. 
Nor can we adopt the Taxpayers' position without running afoul of Supreme Court precedent squarely rejecting the notion that a possible failure of proof on an issue where the defendant had the burden of proof is a form of compulsion which requires that the burden be shifted from the defendant's shoulders to that of the government. Such a concept would convert the Fifth Amendment privilege from the shield against compulsory self-incrimination which it was intended to be into a sword whereby a claimant asserting the privilege would be freed from adducing proof in support of a burden which would otherwise have been his. The Fifth Amendment privilege has never been thought to be in itself a substitute for evidence that would assist in meeting a burden of production.
To be sure, "by invoking the privilege and refusing to produce the materials that might support their deductions the Taxpayers no doubt made their task of proving the IRS erred in denying their deductions that much harder. But "a party who asserts the privilege against self-incrimination must bear the consequences of the lack of evidence. Rylander [United States v. Rylander, 460 U.S. 752 (1983)] teaches that the Taxpayers' possible failure of proof on an issue on which they bear the burden is not compulsion for purposes of the Fifth Amendment. Therefore, we reject the Taxpayers' contention that bearing the burden of proving the IRS erred in rejecting THC's business deduction under § 280E violated the Taxpayers' Fifth Amendment privilege.
The Court held that, since the taxpayers bore the burden of proof without the cover of the Fifth Amendment, the failure of proof required that they lose.

Tenth Circuit Affirms Tax Crimes Convictions and Sentencing (3/2/19)

In United States v. Stubbs (10th Cir. 2019), here, a nonprecedential decision, the Court affirmed Stubbs' convictions and sentencing for two counts of tax evasion and six counts of failure to file.

The activity giving rise to the tax obligations involved was a rebate program, run by his company National Energy Rebate Fund, Inc.  Basically, the scheme was to sell home-improvement companies the opportunity to market a potential 50% rebate to their customers, but the rebate was well into the future and very difficult to qualify for.  Here is the description:
NRF's profit allegedly came from the "slippage" between the total number of customers eligible for rebates and the much smaller number who successfully completed the requirements. The rebate opportunity carried extremely stringent rules: customers had to register the rebate within 17 days of receiving the form; they had to send forms by registered mail only; they had to claim the rebate within the 30 days after the 47th month from the purchase; and the rebate offer would be invalid if anyone other than NRF, such as the company from which they got the rebate forms, reminded them about the deadlines. NRF set aside only a small portion of the revenues it received to pay rebates. And although the rebate program ostensibly was administered by an independent third party, that administration company actually was connected to Stubbs. Apparently, some customers received rebates, but numerous customers who failed to strictly satisfy each and every condition were denied rebates. NRF and its activities were the subject of civil lawsuits brought by Wisconsin and Colorado on behalf of their citizens, which resulted in multi-million-dollar default judgments against Stubbs.
Stubbs failed to file returns at the S-corporation level and at the individual level.  He also failed to pay the tax that would have been due.

Indictments were obtained for tax evasion and failure to file.  Convictions were obtained.  Stubbs fled to Costa Rica, was arrested and returned to U.S.  He was sentenced to 88 months.  He appealed.  He lost..

The issues resolved against Stubbs on appeal were:

1.  The evidence was sufficient to convict for tax evasion.

2.  The district court did not plainly err in admitting evidence of prior acts.

3.  In its sentencing calculation, the district court did not err in applying the criminal activity and sophisticated means enhancements.

This is a nonprecedential case so there is nothing of major significance in the opinion.  The following, however, did catch my eye.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Default Judgment Entered Against Convicted Defendant Who Agreed to Penalty (2/27/19)

In  United States v. Sarshar, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27845 (C.D.Cal.2019), the court rendered default judgment against Masud Sarshar in the Government's FBAR collection suit to recover a willful FBAR penalty of $18,242,537.65 plus interest.  (I don't provide a link because it is a straight default judgment after the defendant had already agreed to the penalty at sentencing (see below).)

Sarshar had previously pled for conspiracy and tax obstruction and was sentenced to 24 months in prison.  See my prior blogs (reverse chronological order):

  • Taxpayer with Israeli Bank Accounts Sentenced to 24 Months (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/13/17; 3/18/17), here.
  • Another Plea to Offshore Account Tax Crimes (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 8/1/16), here.

The sentencing blog entry notes from the DOJ Press Release:
 In addition to the term of prison imposed, Sarshar was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay more than $8.3 million in restitution to the IRS, plus interest and penalties. Sarshar also agreed to pay an FBAR penalty of more than $18.2 million for failing to report his Israeli bank accounts.
Since Sarshar had already agreed to the FBAR penalty, the suit was just a formality required by the 2 year period to file the suit.

11th Circuit Holds Relevant Conduct Loss for Guideline Calculation Can Be Less Than Loss Within Scope of Criminal Conspiracy (2/27/19)

In United States v. Anor, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 4858 (11th Cir. 2019), here, Anor was a relatively low level employee in a tax preparation office which prepared and filed hundreds of false and fraudulent tax returns.  She pled guilty to conspiracy to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1349.  In calculating the loss for Sentencing Guidelines purposes, the district court included all the losses related to conspiracy -- being all the losses involved.  The Court of Appeals reversed because the Guidelines' discussion of relevant conduct would be less than the losses within the scope of the criminal conspiracy.  Here is the discussion:
However, "[t]he limits of sentencing accountability are not coextensive with the scope of criminal liability." United States v. Hunter, 323 F.3d 1314, 1319 (11th Cir. 2003). Under the guidelines, liability for the reasonably foreseeable acts of others is limited by the scope of the criminal activity the defendant agreed to jointly undertake. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3, cmt. n.2. Therefore, "to determine a defendant's liability for the acts of others, the district court must first make individualized findings concerning the scope of criminal activity undertaken by a particular defendant." Hunter, 323 F.3d at 1319 (quotation marks omitted). "In determining the scope of the criminal activity, the district court may consider any explicit agreement or implicit agreement fairly inferred from the conduct of the defendant and others." United States v. Petrie, 302 F.3d 1280, 1290 (11th Cir. 2002). Once that individualized finding is made, the court can proceed to determine reasonable foreseeability. Hunter, 323 F.3d at 1319. 
Our decision in Hunter illustrates the limits of sentencing accountability for low-level defendants who are convicted of participating in a broader conspiracy. The defendants in Hunter were participants in a counterfeit corporate check-cashing ring that operated in South Florida. Id. at 1316. The ring was composed of three "levels" of participants—two individuals at the top who were responsible for printing the counterfeit checks; three individuals who were responsible for recruiting and occasionally driving the check-cashers (called "runners") to cash the checks; and, at the bottom, nineteen runners. Id. At sentencing, the district court held the three defendants, who were runners, responsible for the total loss of the entire conspiracy, stating that the losses associated with the broader conspiracy were reasonably foreseeable to them. Id. at 1318. 
On appeal, we held that reasonable foreseeability alone was not enough and that the district court erred by failing to "first determine the scope of the criminal activity [the defendants] agreed to jointly undertake." Id. at 1320 (quotation marks omitted). We explained that "the Guidelines establish that the fact that the defendant knows about the larger operation, and has agreed to perform a particular act, does not amount to acquiescence in the acts of the criminal enterprise as a whole." Id. Thus, the fact that the defendants cashed multiple checks, which made them responsible for those checks, did not "automatically" or "necessarily" support a finding that they knew the scale of the conspiracy, "let alone that [they] agreed to the full extent of that criminal activity." Id. at 1320-21. Similarly, the mere fact that one of the defendants identified other runners working for a mid-level operative was "not enough to make her accountable for their conduct" without some other evidence "from which an agreement can be inferred." Id. at 1320. Cautioning that the defendants' "involvement and agreement in the conspiracy may be limited to the checks each actually cashed," we vacated the application of a loss enhancement and remanded for the court to make individualized findings as to the scope of criminal activity each defendant agreed to undertake. Id. at 1322. 
Hunter further elaborated on the types of evidence showing agreement in a larger criminal scheme. See id. at 1321-22. One "relevant factor in determining whether an activity is jointly undertaken is whether the defendant assisted in designing and executing the scheme." Id. at 1321; cf. United States v. McCrimmon, 362 F.3d 725, 732-33 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding a defendant responsible for the entire amount of loss where the defendant, though he did not "design" the scheme, actively recruited investors to further the scheme and had a role equivalent to a higher-level operative). Another is "evidence of sharing or mutuality from which an agreement in the larger criminal scheme can be inferred." Hunter, 323 F.3d at 1322. For example, in United States v. Hall, we affirmed a court's determination that the defendant's relevant conduct included fraud losses caused by others in a telemarketing-type conspiracy where each of the participants knew each other and was aware of the others' activities, and they aided and abetted one another by sharing lead sheets of potential victims and sharing telephones. 996 F.2d 284, 285-86 (11th Cir. 1993).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Willful Blindness - Is It An Inference of Knowledge or Intent or Is It a Substitute (2/21/19)

I am back on one of my pet peeves -- deliberate ignorance.  (Deliberate ignorance is also called willful blindness or conscious avoidance; in an instruction context it is also called the ostrich instruction.)  I just picked up United States v. Maitre, 898 F.3d 1151 (11th Cir. 2018), here. The Court rejected a claim that the trial court should not have given the deliberate ignorance instruction.  In the course of doing so, the Court said (p.1157):
This Court considers "deliberate ignorance of criminal activity as the equivalent of knowledge."
I just think that is wrong.  If the ultimate element of the crime is actual knowledge or specific intent, a defendant's willful blindness should do no more than permit a jury to infer the required knowledge or intent.  In other words, it is circumstantial evidence of the ultimate element of actual knowledge or specific intent.  A finding that the defendant was willfully blind should not compel a finding that the defendant has actual knowledge or specific intent element of the crime.  Congress has not said that when it requires actual knowledge or specific intent as an element of the crime, anything less will do.

I have written on this before, but just wanted to vent again.

Other blog entries on this:

  • Interesting NonTax Case on Willful Blindness (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 10/3/17), here.
  • The Willful Blindness Concept -- What Does It Do? (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/23/17), here.
  • Willful Blindness / Conscious Avoidance and Crimes Requiring Intent to Violate a Known Legal Duty (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/21/14), here.
  • More on Conscious Avoidance (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 1/21/13), here.
  • Third Circuit Decision in Stadtmauer - Willful Blindness (Conscious Avoidance) (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 9/10/10), here.

10th Circuit Reverses Tax Money Laundering Conviction For Lack of Sufficiency of Evidence (2/21/19)

In United States v. Christy, ___ F.3d ___, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 4594 (10th Cir. 2019), here, the Court opens with this summary:
On May 21, 2014, CNB auditors conducted a surprise audit of the Burlington, Kansas Central National Bank ("CNB" or "Bank") vault. The vault was missing $764,000. When they began to suspect Ms. Christy, she forged documents to purport that she had sent the missing cash to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City ("FRB"). A grand jury indicted her on one count of bank embezzlement, six counts of making false bank entries, six counts of failing to report income on her taxes, and 10 counts of money laundering. After a six-day trial, a jury found Ms. Christy guilty of all charges except four money laundering counts. 
On appeal, Ms. Christy argues that (1) cumulative prosecutorial misconduct violated her due process rights, (2) the evidence was insufficient for her money laundering convictions, and (3) the jury instructions improperly omitted a "materiality" element for the false-bank-entry charges.
Of these three issues identified by the Court, I address on the second -- the money laundering because it is tax money laundering, not commonly encountered.  The prosecutorial misconduct issue is interesting but so long (from p. 9 to p. 39) that I did not delve deeply into it.

I also address an issue discussed by the majority in the first footnote (spanning from p. 2 to p. 3) regarding whether, even with counts of conviction reversed because the Guidelines calculations would be the same.

Tax Money Laundering.

The Court offers this additional procedural background (p. 40):
The jury found Ms. Christy not guilty of the four money laundering counts based on loan payments the Christys made before 2014 (Counts 14-17). The cash payments underlying Ms. Christy's six money laundering convictions (Counts 18-23) were made on two loans in the Christys' names at the Farmers State Bank in Aliceville, Kansas. 
Count 18 charged Ms. Christy with money laundering for making a $1,000 payment on March 17, 2014 on Loan 7521, a home loan that originated in 2011 and called for a minimum monthly payment of $600. With one exception, a payment of $1,848 that was not charged in the indictment, every one of the Christys' payments on Loan 7521 in 2013 and 2014 was $1,000. Counts 19-23 concerned cash payments on Loan 7962, a refinancing agreement for the Christys' home loan. n13 Ms. Christy was convicted based on five cash payments on this loan made between March 17, 2014 and May 12, 2014, ranging from $834.49 to $3,200 and averaging approximately $2,167. 
Ms. Christy filed a motion for acquittal on the money laundering counts at the close of the Government's case, arguing there was insufficient evidence to show that her loan payments were made with embezzled funds. She did not argue that [*45]  there was insufficient evidence of specific intent. She renewed her motion at the end of trial. The district court denied the motion, stating, 
A reasonable jury could infer from the circumstantial evidence presented at trial that the cash used to make these loan payments came from funds that Ms. Christy had embezzled from the vault at CNB and that Ms. Christy conducted the financial transactions with the intent to file a false income tax return in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1).
The issue was whether the evidence was sufficient to show that Christy had the required "intent to engage in conduct constituting a violation of section 7201 or 7206 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986."  Section § 1956(a)(1)(A)(ii).  The Government argued that two types of acts were sufficient:

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

UBS Fined $4.2 Billion for Its French Foreign Account Escapades Raiding France of Taxes (2/20/19)

Liz Alderman, French Court Fines UBS $4.2 Billion for Helping Clients Evade Taxes (NYT 2/20/19), here.

Excerpts
The lavish spending caught up with UBS on Wednesday, when French judges ordered it to pay a record 3.7 billion euro fine, about $4.2 billion, for carrying out what prosecutors said was a long-running scheme to help French clients hide huge sums of money from the authorities. 
The penalty, the largest in French history, included €800 million to be paid to the government, which said it had lost revenue as a result of UBS’s helping French citizens evade taxes from 2004 to 2012. 
UBS said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees with the verdict” and that it planned to appeal. “The bank has consistently contested any criminal wrongdoing,” the statement said, adding that the judgment was “not supported by any concrete evidence.” 
The ruling coincides with crackdowns on tax evasion in France and other countries that have put Swiss banks in particular on the defensive. 
UBS paid a $780 million fine in the United States in 2009 to resolve accusations that it had helped rich clients dodge taxes, and pledged to divulge the names of over 4,450 people with Swiss bank accounts. Credit Suisse was fined $2.6 billion by the Justice Department in 2014, and €300 million by France in 2017 in similar cases

Federal Tax Procedure Book Update on Tax Crimes (2/20/19)

Today, I completed revisions to the Tax Crimes section of my Federal Tax Procedure Book so that I could circulate to Jim Malone's Tax Practice and Procedure class to UVA Law School where I will guest teach the subject next week.  I have  circulated it to class members.  Readers of this blog can download it here.  A related spreadsheet is available here.

As always, I would appreciate feedback from readers for improvement.

The next editions of the FTPB will be published in early August 2019.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

D.C. Circuit Rejects Defendant's Post Conviction Claims of Selective Prosecution, Actual Innocence and Attorney Conflict (1/23/19)

In United States v. Bertram, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 1899 (D.C. Cir. 2019), here, the Court entered Judgment with an opinion immediately below the judgment.  Bertram pled guilty to a crime for failure to pay over trust fund tax.  See Sentencing for Failure to Pay Over Trust Fund Taxes (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 5/6/15), here.  Bertram moved to vacate his conviction  under 28 USC 2255. The district court denied the motion.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

Some interesting points:

1.  The Court rejects Bertram's selective prosecution claim based upon allegations that he was prosecuted because (i) he worked for Republican candidates and conservative organizations, (ii) that similarly situated Democrats were not prosecuted, and (iii) IRS agent audited him because he was among the "President's enemies" (the President would be Obama).

2.  The Court rejects his actual innocence claim (that might not even be cognizable with a knowing and voluntary plea), finding that the record forecloses the claim.

3. The Court rejects his final argument that an attorney representing Bertram before the plea agreement was conflicted.  That attorney was Cono Namorato, here, who is a giant in the criminal tax defense bar.  I found this the most interesting in the case, so I quote it in full:
Finally, Bertram's argument that one of his attorneys-Cono Namorato-had a conflict of interest gets him nowhere. Bertram alleges that Namorato developed a conflict of interest when he was considered for a position as Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice's Tax Division-the very Department that was prosecuting Bertram-and failed to alert Bertram to the conflict. Because Namorato served as outside counsel rather than counsel of record, Bertram has to show that Namorato had an "actual conflict" that "adversely affected" Bertram's decision to plead guilty. See United States v. Wright, 745 F.3d 1231, 1233 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (finding no evidence to support defendant's allegation that conflicted counsel had coerced him into pleading guilty). 
Bertram has not plausibly alleged that his decision to enter the guilty plea was adversely affected by Namorato's alleged conflict. As Bertram has admitted, Namorato did not advise him about the plea he ultimately accepted. Attorneys from Jenner & Block, including his counsel of record Jessie Liu, alone counseled him about that plea agreement. And Bertram said on the record that he was satisfied with Liu's performance. App'x 22. 
Bertram argues instead that Namorato failed to investigate several "exculpatory" witnesses. But the "exculpatory" witnesses to whom Bertram points are the same lawyers and IRS agent whose anticipated testimony he invoked in support of his actual innocence claim. Bertram was aware of those witnesses at the time of his plea, and the district court specifically advised Bertram that he had a right to present witnesses in his defense if he went to trial. He chose not to do so. And then his sentencing memorandum, (presumably) written by counsel of record, admitted that Bertram's actions taken pursuant to those same witnesses' advice did not negate the willfulness of his actions, but merely provided "[c]ontext." S.A. 10.  n1
   n1 The district court's holding that non-appearing counsel cannot be constitutionally ineffective was disputable. Other courts of appeals have recognized that, in rare instances, the actions, omissions, or conflicts of a non-appearing or secondary member of a defendant's team can so "taint" the defendant's representation as to constitute ineffective assistance. See Rubin v. Gee, 292 F.3d 396, 405 (4th Cir. 2002) (representation of two conflicted attorneys "ultimately tainted and adversely affected" defendant's representation by three trial lawyers); Stoia v. United States, 22 F.3d 766, 769 (7th Cir. 1994) (counsel need not have appeared in court to give rise to ineffective assistance of counsel claim); United States v. Tatum, 943 F.2d 370, 379 (4th Cir. 1991) (representation "tainted" by conflict of one of defendant's counsel who was relied upon heavily). But that issue is of no moment because Bertram has made no showing of taint, and the ineffective assistance claim fails on the merits. 
Bertram also argues that Namorato failed to investigate a selective prosecution claim or to explain to him the mens rea element of the offense under 26 U.S.C. § 7202. Because those arguments were made for the first time on appeal even though the relevant facts were fully known to Bertram when he was before the district court, we will not entertain them. See Chichakli v.Tillerson, 882 F.3d 229, 234 (D.C. Cir. 2018); United States v. Rice, 727 F. App'x 697, 702 (D.C. Cir. 2018). Bertram's separate argument that his plea was involuntary because of asserted shortfalls in his Rule 11 colloquy will not be addressed either because it is raised for the first time on appeal and is outside the scope of the certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1); Waters v. Lockett, 896 F.3d 559, 571-572 (D.C. Cir. 2018).