Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Ninth Circuit Panel Requires Cheek-Type Specific Intent for Civil Willfully Preparer Penalty (8/31/21)

In Rodgers v. United States,   (9th Cir. 7/6/21), CA9 here (unpublished and nonprecedential), the Court held (based on a prior appeal) that the return preparer penalty under § 6694(b)(2)(A) for a “willful attempt in any manner to understate the liability for tax on the return or claim” requires “specific intent to understate tax liability on tax returns or claims.”  Basically, the panel held, the civil penalty requires the same level of intent as § 7206, which is the Cheek-type of intent – specific intent to violate a known legal duty.  (The panel opinion does not cite Cheek, but that is the way I read the opinion.)

The opinion is nonprecedential because, as interpreted by the panel, the Ninth Circuit’s precedent compelled the conclusion.  Accordingly, the panel reversed because the district court held that willful blindness satisfied the test of willfulness.

JAT Comments:

1. A civil penalty statutory willfully “element” often is not interpreted and applied the same as the tax crime willfully "element." The obvious example for those who follow this blog is the FBAR civil willful penalty under 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(C).  The FBAR criminal penalty requires Cheek-type specific intent willfulness.  Ratzlaf v. United States, 510 U.S. 135 (1994).  But the FBAR civil penalty with the same word (willfully), as interpreted and applied by the courts, requires a less specific intent, including willful blindness and reckless conduct.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Willful Blindness As Permitting Only an Inference of Knowledge (8/30/21)

I have written on the question of whether the willful blindness concept permits conviction of a knowledge element crime upon the finding of willful blindness or, instead, permits only an inference of the knowledge element upon showing willful blindness.  See blog entries here.  In other words, if the criminal statute requires a knowledge element, will a showing of willful blindness require conviction or only permit conviction. 

The key in jury cases is the instruction.  In United States v. Henson, ___ F.4th ___, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 24818, at *37-38 (10th Cir. Aug. 19, 2021), CA10 here and GS here, the Court affirmed a challenge to the following instruction for an offense requiring knowingly as an element (a less rigid intent element than willfully for tax crimes):

The term "knowingly" means that defendant [*38]  realized what he was doing and was aware of the nature of his conduct and did not act through ignorance, mistake, or accident.

When the word "knowingly" is used in these instructions, it means that the act was done voluntarily and intentionally, and not because of mistake or accident. Although knowledge on the part of the defendant cannot be established merely by demonstrating that the defendant was negligent, careless, or foolish, knowledge can be inferred if the defendant deliberately blinded himself or herself to the existence of a fact. Knowledge can be inferred if the defendant was aware of a high probability of the existence of the fact in question, unless the defendant did not actually believe the fact in question.

I have bold-faced the key language.  To which I say, exactly!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Newsletter Focusing on DOJ Tax Criminal Enforcement Section (8/25/21)

I received the email below from Jeff Beinholt, an alumnus of DOJ Tax CES (the Criminal Section initialism).  The content speaks for itself.  Some readers of this blog may be within the target audience for his newsletter focusing on CES.

"Greetings. Jeff Breinholt here, an alumnus of the Tax (Crim) Division (1990-1997). About six months ago, I launched a newsletter devoted to Tax Division history, culture, and lore, called The Malone Report. It's a private online newsletter/blog that is only available to registered members (though it's free). Would any of you Tax Division alums like to be added? If so, you can send an email to GMAD2021@yahoo.com." 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Daugerdas Re-Appears on the Tax Scene - This Time in a CDP Proceeding for Restitution Based Assessment (8/12/21)

In Daugerdas v. Commissioner (T.C. Dkt.7350-20L Order Dated 8/11/21), here, the Tax Court (Judge Goeke) in addressed some issues arising in a CDP proceeding arising from a lien filing related to a restitution-based assessment (“RBA”) under § 6201(a)(4) for tax loss arising from Title 18 crimes of conviction.  Long-term readers of this blog may recognize the petition, Paul M. Daugerdas.  A link to posts mentioning Daugerdas is here (sorted by relevance but can be sorted in reverse chronological order).

I find the order confusing so I will try to work through the order adding some of my own nuance (at the risk of further confusion).  I caution readers that I am confused about some of the Order and may be missing the point in some of my comments.  Nevertheless here is my best shot at working through the order.  I find it very difficult to summarize in fewer words in a meaningful way.

Judge Goeke summarizes Daugerdas’ relevant trajectory as follows (Order 1-2):

            For more than a decade beginning in the early 1990s, petitioner, a former tax attorney, designed, sold, and implemented fraudulent tax shelters to his clients to enabled them  to evade tax. In October 2013 he was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on mail fraud, obstruction of the administration of the internal revenue laws, four counts of client tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. United States v. Daugerdas, 837 F.2d 212, 218 (2nd Cir. 2016). He was acquitted of tax evasion for his personal income tax. At a sentencing hearing on June 25, 2014, the District Court sentenced petitioner to 180 months incarceration, 3 years of supervised release, restitution of $371,006,397, and preliminary forfeiture of $164,737,500 of petitioner’s assets.

Petitioner agreed to the restitution calculations submitted by the Government, and the District Court adopted those calculations. At the sentencing hearing, the District Court stated that the restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) and named the IRS as petitioner’s victim. It did not address a payment schedule or expressly state whether payment was due immediately. Addressing how to portion the restitution among petitioner and his co-defendants, it stated that petitioner is “responsible for the full amount of restitution” and made him jointly and severally liable with his co-defendants for $258.6 million of the restitution. The Court noted that petitioner had criminal proceeds of $97 million, i.e., tax shelter fees.

The IRS then made a § 6201(a)(4) assessment.  That provision is:

(4) Certain orders of criminal restitution
(A)In general. The Secretary shall assess and collect the amount of restitution under an order pursuant to section 3556 of title 18, United States Code, for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax.
(B)Time of assessment. An assessment of an amount of restitution under an order described in subparagraph (A) shall not be made before all appeals of such order are concluded and the right to make all such appeals has expired.
(C)Restriction on challenge of assessment. The amount of such restitution may not be challenged by the person against whom assessed on the basis of the existence or amount of the underlying tax liability in any proceeding authorized under this title (including in any suit or proceeding in court permitted under section 7422).

To repeat, the crimes of conviction were:  “mail fraud, obstruction of the administration of the internal revenue laws, four counts of client tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.”  Restitution law divides the tax loss universe into tax loss related to Title 26 crimes (which includes tax evasion and obstruction of the administration of the internal revenue laws) and tax loss related to crimes under other Code provisions, principally Title 18 (which includes mail fraud and conspiracy).  Restitution for tax loss for Title 26 crimes is not generally available; restitution for tax loss for Title 18 crimes is generally available.  I say generally not available for Title 26 crimes, but a court can impose restitution for Title 26 tax crimes: (i) as a condition of supervised release after the defendant serves his incarceration period (see Order p. 8); or (ii) by consent of the defendant (which is a common condition in cases resolved by plea agreement, but there is no indication that Daugerdas consented here).  Judge Goeke discusses the supervised release that the sentencing court ordered (Order p. 8) but fails to tie it to the restitution ordered by the sentencing court.  In other words, from the factual recounting in the Order, the restitution did not include restitution for the tax crimes of conviction but only for the Title 18 crimes of conviction, so even if the court had imposed (which it does not seem to have done) restitution as a condition of supervised release, the need to tie restitution to tax crimes of conviction would seem unnecessary and nonsensical.  (The Order is not clear on this point, so I am taking a bit of a leap to conclude that the restitution related only to Title 18 crimes of conviction.)

Daugerdas was acquitted of his own tax evasion, so restitution could not include his own tax liability.  For Daugerdas’ own tax liability (plus penalties and interest), the IRS would have to the normal assessment mechanisms (including notice of deficiency).  Tax crimes fans will recall that the IRS can assess tax and assert civil fraud (for civil fraud penalty and open statute of limitations) even after an acquittal for the crime of tax evasion.   After a regular tax assessment, the IRS could then use its own collection mechanisms (particularly filing a lien) without concern about the restitution order and authority under § 6201(a)(4).  However,  the CDP proceeding in this case seems related only to the RBA under § 6201(a)(4).

As recounted by the Court, the sentencing court ordered Daugerdas to pay restitution of $371 million (rounded) of which $258.6 was jointly and severally imposed on his convicted co-defendants.  It is not clear to me from Judge Goeke’s order what the difference in amount is for which Daugerdas was solely liable (about $103 million). I infer (but the order is not clear) that the difference related to some Title 18 crime of conviction for which the other convicted defendants were not liable and thus their restitution could not include the related tax loss.

Now, back to the Order, Judge Goeke feels (Order pp. 8-9) that he does not have enough facts and law to decide whether the sentencing court ordered restitution to be due immediately (which would be the default rule).  I am not sure what that commotion is about, but Judge Goeke wants the parties to address it in subsequent briefing.

Probably the more interesting part of the Order is set up under the caption “3. Collection Procedures under Title 18” (Order pp. 9-10).  The Court recounts some basic restitution and restitution lien law.  Restitution lien law is the lien related solely to restitution and is not separate tax Code lien that arises  under § 6201(a)(4) which is designed to allow the IRS to use its collection mechanisms of lien and levy independent of mechanisms available under restitution law.  The Court notes that the restitution lien and enforcement of that lien may be enforced by the victim even if there is a payment schedule for the restitution.  I suppose the implication might be that immediate enforcement might also be available for the tax lien for an RBA and the broader issue for the RBA is whether a tax lien filing is inconsistent court-ordered schedule (depending upon how that issue is resolved).  

Judge Goeke wants more briefing to clarify and resolve his confusion.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

2021 Federal Tax Procedure Editions Now Available for Download on SSRN (8/8/21)

 I have posted to SSRN the 2021 editions of my Federal Tax Procedure Book.  I have not been formally notified by SSRN that they have been accepted (whatever that means; the author paper page shows them as “Submitted;” when accepted the status will change to “Distributed.”).  Nevertheless, it appears that they are available for the community to download.

 The links to download are here:

  • Federal Tax Procedure (2021 Student Ed.), SSRN here.
  • Federal Tax Procedure (2021 Practitioner Ed.), SSRN here.

Looking toward the next editions in August 2022, I am constantly revising the 2021 edition which became the working draft for the 2022 editions.  I make hundreds of changes during the year, some to add new "stuff," others to correct or better state the old "stuff," and still others for reasons that feel right at the time.  For the significant changes, I post the changes on the Federal Tax Procedure Blog page to the right titled "Federal Tax Procedure Book 2021 Editions Updates (8/9/21)", here.  Each time I make post a significant change, I reset the date in parentheses.

I ask that those desiring a copy of either or both editions download from the SSRN web site.  SSRN maintains statistics on downloads that are useful for scholars.  So, please, rather than sharing a copy of the pdf in each case, direct anyone you think may be interested to the SSRN site page for the publication so that the download metric can be useful.

Also, I urge those using the book to advise me when they think the book can be improved.  Most importantly I would like to know where I have misstated or omitted something of importance.  Also, even for more mundane matters such as wording or syntax that can be improved.  Your input will permit me to make updates on the Federal Tax Procedure Blog and then make the 2022 version better.

Thank you.

This blog entry is cross-posted on the Federal Tax Procedure Blog, here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

USAO SDNY and Bank of Butterfield Enter NPA (8/3/21)

The USAO SDNY has issued this press release:  Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Agreement With Bermudian Bank To Resolve Criminal Tax Investigation: The Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited Pays $5.6 Million in Forfeiture and Restitution; Receives Non-Prosecution Agreement as a Result of its Cooperation, here.  The combined NPA and Statement of Facts are linked in the press release; direct link is here.

Key excerpts from the press release:

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Stuart M. Goldberg, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, and James C. Lee, Chief of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced today that Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited (“BUTTERFIELD”) entered into a non-prosecution agreement (“NPA”) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and agreed to pay $5.6 million to the United States for assisting U.S. taxpayer-clients in opening and maintaining undeclared foreign bank accounts from 2001 through 2013.  The NPA was based on BUTTERFIELD’s extraordinary cooperation, including its efforts in providing 386 client files for non-compliant U.S. taxpayer-clients, and provides that BUTTERFIELD will not be criminally prosecuted.  The NPA requires BUTTERFIELD to forfeit $4.896 million to the United States, representing certain fees that it earned by assisting its U.S. taxpayer-clients in opening and maintaining these undeclared accounts, and to pay $704,000 in restitution to the IRS, representing the approximate unpaid taxes arising from the tax evasion by BUTTERFIELD’s U.S. taxpayer-clients.

Monday, August 2, 2021

2d Circuit Holds that A U.S. Person Who Is Both Owner and Beneficiary of Foreign Trust Is Liable for Separate Penalties for Failure to Report in Both Categories (8/2/21)

There is a U.S. tax compliance problem with offshore activity often beyond the ability of the IRS to obtain or easily obtain relevant information and ensure that tax is properly reported and collected.  A prominent topic on this blog has been the FBAR reporting obligation that, as relevant to tax, assists in U.S. tax compliance with respect to foreign financial accounts.  A similar problem exists for foreign trusts with U.S. owners and beneficiaries and, not surprisingly, there are obligations for the U.S. owners and beneficiaries to report information to the IRS useful for tax compliance.

In Wilson v. United States, ___ F.4th ___, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 22315 (2d Cir. July 28, 2021), 2d Cir. here and GS here, the Court held that the following are two separate filing or reporting obligations that can attract separate penalties when both apply:  

  • § 6048(b)(1) requires “any United States person [who] receives . . . during any taxable year . . . any distribution from a foreign trust” to “make a return with respect to such trust for such year” that includes, inter alia, “the aggregate amount of the distributions so received from such trust;” the penalty for violating this obligation is 5% (by substitution for the 35% amount) for the § 6048(c)(1) penalty). § 6677(b)(2).
  • § 6048(c)(1) requires U.S. owners “of any portion of a foreign trust” to “ensure that . . . such trust makes a return for such [taxable] year which sets forth a full and complete accounting of all trust activities and operations for the year” and “other information as the Secretary [of the Treasury] may prescribe;” the penalty is 35% of the gross reportable amount.  § 6677(a)
For those wanting to read the statutes, § 6048 is here and § 6077 is here.

Based on that holding, the Court reversed the district court’s holding that a U.S. person subject who was both owner and distribution beneficiary could be subject to only the owner penalty of 5%.

Basically, the Court’s reasoning is that the plain meaning of the statutes imposes two separate reporting obligations and separate penalties for each without any indication that only one penalty applies for a pattern of conduct that violates both reporting obligations.  

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Tax Court Finds Offshore Account Owner Not Credible; Determines Income Tax Deficiency and Civil Fraud Penalty (8/1/21)

In Harrington v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2021-95, GS here, the Court (Judge Lauber) determined deficiencies and the civil fraud penalty for a taxpayer who played the offshore account game (a pernicious variation of the audit lottery) and lost.  The taxpayer was a UBS depositor; UBS disclosed the taxpayer’s information and documents.  And the rest was, in a sense, inevitable. I won’t detail the particular facts of the taxpayer's audit lottery gaming, but will discuss the role of credibility.

I offer a series of excerpts directly or indirectly addressing the Court’s credibility assessments which did not go well for the taxpayer (boldface supplied by JAT except for title headings).

[*5] 

Petitioner testified that he lent this $350,000 to EWH as part of his effort to stabilize the company, by showing “potential creditors that * * * [EWH] had money in the bank.” There is no evidence that petitioner executed a loan agreement with Mr. Glube [Canadian lawyer] or EWH, and we did not find petitioner’s testimony credible.  We find that petitioner was impressed with Mr. Glube’s proficiency at secreting assets in the Cayman Islands and wished to secure the same treatment for his $350,000 nest egg.

A UBS document dated May 2002 identified petitioner and his wife as the “beneficial owners” of the Reed Account. In 2003 he traveled from New Zealand to the Cayman Islands and signed a variety of documents, one of which gave him a “power of attorney for the management of [Reed International’s] assets.” Despite being a beneficial owner of the Reed Account and having a power of attorney to manage the company’s assets, petitioner testified that he did not have “any access or control * * * to get the money back.” We did not find that testimony credible.

On the badges of fraud considered in imposing the civil fraud penalty: