Monday, December 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

JAT Notes:

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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


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