Friday, March 8, 2024

Taxpayers Should Be Prosecuted Along with Enablers of Abusive Tax Shelters (3/8/24)

This blog entry is an opinion piece. Individual taxpayers should be prosecuted along with their enablers who promote and implement the abusive shelters (particularly enablers from the tax professions).

The following is from a report of Attorney General Garland's comments (Kerry K. Walsh Deborah A. Curtis Amy Jeffress, “Swift” Justice: Attorney General Garland Vows To Uphold DOJ Priorities in Fireside Chat (Arnold & Porter 3/6/24), here):

Additionally, AG Garland explained how DOJ’s three co-equal priorities — upholding the rule of law, keeping America safe, and protecting civil liberties — implicated corporate accountability. AG Garland stressed that the greatest deterrent of white collar crime is holding individual corporate executives to account. AG Garland also reiterated the importance of applying the rule of law equally, regardless of rank or position of power.

I supplied the bold-face to emphasize the point. There has been a perception that, by delivering up the corporation (or other entity) for criminal consequences, the people in the corporations (collectively, the executives) could escape accountability.

A similar perception and resulting phenomenon exists in the tax area where the promoters of abusive tax shelters (think, for example, the Son-of-Boss shelters in the late 1990s and early 2000s) were prosecuted, but the taxpayers generally were not. Yet all of those taxpayers or at least most of them knew that they were violating the law and participated in the fraud. For example, the abusive shelters wrapped in complex structures and voluminous more-likely-than-not opinions, required at the minimum that the taxpayers represent to the promoters that they had a nontax profit motive when, in fact, they did not. That was a lie that was essential to abusive tax shelter. Moreover, most of those wealthy taxpayers had independent counsel (other than the ones supplied or recommended by the promoters) before buying into the deal. Assuming that most of those independent counsel were competent, those taxpayers knew that the deals were bogus, but nevertheless sought to buy fraud insurance through the legal opinions rendered by the promoter’s supplied or recommended counsel (as opposed to their own independent counsel). That worked as insurance.

My argument has been that the way to discourage abusive tax shelters is to prosecute the taxpayers along with the promoters. This would discourage the tax professional penalty insurance industry and abusive tax shelters generally.

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

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