Tax Attorney Sentenced To 48 Months For Employment Tax Fraud

Pittsburgh Tax Attorney Gets 48 Months For Employment Tax Fraud

Trust fund penalty for tax evasion gets 48 months in jailOn January 12, 2017 Steven Lynch, a Pittsburgh tax attorney, was sentenced to 48 months in prison,following his conviction for the willful failure to pay over payroll taxes (Trust Fund Taxes). The defendant co-owned and operated a recreational sports facility in Washington, County, Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2015.

The sports facility, doing business as “Iceoplex at Southpointe,” included a fitness center, ice rink, soccer field, restaurant and bar. According to facts contained in the DOJ press release dated September 8, 2016, Lynch controlled the finances of the businesses. As a “responsible person” Lynch was required to: (i) collect income and employment taxes from employees of the various businesses; (ii) properly account for the trust fund taxes and file payroll tax returns; and (iii) remit the taxes collected to the IRS.

The jury found that between 2012 through 2015, Lynch failed to timely pay over to the IRS more than $790,000 in taxes withheld from the wages of the employees for these businesses. Instead, Lynch set up SRA Services, a shell company with no assets and transferred the various payroll accounts to that entity. The corporation was set up for the sole purpose of obstructing or impeding the IRS efforts to collect the employment taxes owed.

An employer who collects Federal Withholding Tax from its employees is responsible for filing accurate payroll tax returns and remitting these taxes to the IRS.

Employment Taxes required to be withheld include Federal Income Tax as well as Social Security and Medicare Taxes. The Employer is also required withhold to the Employer’s’ portion of Social Security and Medicare Taxes. Failure to properly collect, report and pay these taxes to the IRS can result in criminal prosecution.

Employment Taxes are considered “trust funds.” As a fiduciary, Employer has an absolute duty to safeguard these funds and the failure to do so can have dire consequences. The Employer also has an affirmative duty to file quarterly and annual payroll tax returns, which accurately reflect the correct amount of Employee Withholding Taxes, as well as the Employer’s contributions for its portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Finally, an Employer is charged with the responsibility of remitting the taxes withheld to the IRS.

Over recent years, the IRS and the DOJ tax division have ramped-up criminal enforcement efforts in the area of employment taxes. This case makes clear that employment tax fraud is a top priority for the IRS and they will not hesitate to prosecute anyone, including tax attorneys.

©2017 Anthony N. Verni, Attorney At Law, Certified Public Accountant

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New Developments in The Willful Civil FBAR Penalty

Current Developments May Make It Easier For the IRS To Assess Penalties After Willfully Failing to File FBAR’s

The Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) can be submitted with the advice of a tax law attorney.A taxpayer who willfully fails to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties as well as imprisonment.  In both the criminal and civil context, the government has the burden of proof.

In FBAR criminal prosecutions, the standard of proof is well settled and requires the government to prove its case using the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.  However, in cases involving the assessment of the 31 USC § 5321(a) (5(C) willful civil FBAR penalty, the standard of proof  is unsettled and remains the subject of debate among legal scholars, practitioners and the judiciary. Practitioners have argued that the standard of proof in assessing the willful civil FBAR penalty should be the clear and convincing standard, citing Chief Counsel Advice (CCA) memorandum released January 20, 2006, CCM 200603026 (See discussion below) in support of using the higher standard of proof.

The correct standard of proof to be applied for assessing the willful civil FBAR penalty often arises in the context of an assessment of the willful civil FBAR penalty by IRS Examinations, an Appeal by the taxpayer, or in defense of an action by the U.S. government to enforce the 31 USC § 5321(a) (5(C) penalty. The proper standard of proof to apply in the context of the willful failure to file an FBAR has been the subject of a number of lower federal court decisions and is also reflected in jury instructions submitted by U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida. The Courts in all three cases have cited the preponderance of evidence standard as the correct standard to apply when assessing the 31 USC § 5321(a) (5(C) penalty.

Based upon two recent cases, the stage may now set for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth and Ninth Circuits to ultimately decide the correct standard of proof to be applied when assessing the31 USC § 5321(a) (5(C) penalty.

The first case, Gubser v Comm’r, 2016 WL. 3129530 (S.D. Tex. May 4, 2015) comes out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. In Gubser, the taxpayer filed a complaint in the District Court asking for a declaratory judgment that the proper standard to be applied in a willful civil FBAR penalty case is the clear and convincing standard. The District Court dismissed the taxpayer’s suit based upon lack of standing. The taxpayer subsequently filed an appeal.

Although the question currently before the Fifth Circuit is limited to standing, some observers believe that if the taxpayer prevails and the matter is remanded back to the District Court for further findings, the standard of proof issue to be applied in a willful civil FBAR penalty will find its way back to the Fifth Circuit.

The second case, U.S. V. August Bohanec and Maria Bohanec (Case No. 215-CV-4347 ddp (FFMx) (filed 12/8/16) involves a decision from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. In Bohanec, the Court rejected the taxpayers’ argument that the clear and convincing standard should be applied in a willful civil FBAR penalty case. Instead, the District Court applied the lower preponderance of the evidence standard of proof. The taxpayers’ attorney has indicated the taxpayers will appeal the decision.

The ultimate determination of the standard to be applied when assessing the willful civil FBAR penalty and its importance cannot be overstated; a decision by the Fifth and/or Ninth Circuits citing the preponderance of evidence as the correct standard will certainly have a chilling effect on taxpayers, who are considering opting out of the OVDP, and will also pose a greater risk to those taxpayers who have  or will submit a  Certification of Non-Willfulness as part of the Streamlined Procedures.  If the Appeals Court finds that the correct standard is the preponderance of evidence, taxpayers can also expect the IRS to be more aggressive in scrutinizing taxpayers who opt Out of the OVDP or those who proceed using the Streamlined Procedures.

This article outlines the concept of “willfulness” in light of U.S.C. §5321(a) (5) (C), CCM200603026, JB Williams, McBride and Zwerner and in anticipation of the Gubser and Bohanec cases making their way to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A taxpayer who “willfully” fails to file an FBAR faces a penalty equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the foreign financial account balance as of the June 30 FBAR due date,31 U.S.C. §5321(a) (5) (C). Neither the FBAR statute nor the regulations promulgated there under provide any guidance on the standard of proof to be applied in the assessment of the willful civil FBAR Penalty. In Chief Counsel Advice (CCA) memorandum released January 20, 2006, analyzing the issue of willfulness in the FBAR civil context, the IRS compared the burden of proof for the willful civil FBAR penalty to the burden of proof for the civil fraud penalty under 26 U.S. Code §. 6663, explaining that it expects the standard of proof will be the same—clear and convincing evidence, not merely a preponderance of the evidence. Proponents for applying the higher standard often cite CCM 200603026 in support. Despite CCM 200603026, the U.S. District Court, in three cases has cited the lower preponderance of the evidence standard as the correct standard when assessing the willful civil FBAR penalty.

The United States District Court in JB Williams applied the preponderance of the evidence standard,United States vs. Williams, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90794 (ED VA 2010). In JB Williams, the government brought an action in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia seeking to enforce the civil willful FBAR penalties assessed against the taxpayer for his failure to report his interest in two foreign bank accounts for tax year2000, in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5314.  The taxpayer previously plead guilty to two count superseding information for Conspiracy to Defraud the IRS and Criminal Tax Evasion.  As part of the plea, Williams agreed to allocute to all of the essential elements of the charged crimes, including that he unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly evaded taxes by filing false and fraudulent tax returns on which he failed to disclose his interest in the Swiss accounts.

Furthermore, the taxpayer checked “no” in response to the question on Schedule B Form 1040, regarding the existence of a foreign financial account, despite having transferred $7M to a Swiss bank account.  In addition, the taxpayer completed a tax organizer, wherein he answered: “no” in response to a question as to whether he had a financial interest in or was a signatory over a foreign financial account. The taxpayer provided the following statement as part of his allocution.

“I also knew that I had the obligation to report to the IRS and/or the Department of the Treasury the existence of the Swiss accounts, but for the calendar year tax returns 1993 through 2000, I chose not to in order to assist in hiding my true income from the IRS and evade taxes thereon, until I filed my 2001 tax return.”

. . . .

The District Court, held without discussion, that the government’s burden to establish a willful violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5314only requires proof by a preponderance of the evidence.The District Court further held that the Taxpayer’s eventual filing of the delinquent FBARS, “negated” willfulness.  In reversing the District Court’s decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, dodging the standard of proof question, held that the District Court clearly erred  in finding that the Government failed to prove that Williams willfully violated 31 USC § 5314.

In U.S. v. McBride, [908 F. Supp.2d 1186, 1201 (D. Utah 2012)], the District Court for the District of Utah Central District, relying on Williams held that the correct standard for imposition of the willful civil FBAR penalty is the preponderance of the evidence standard. Likewise, in U.S. v Zwerner, a 2014 Florida Case, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida submitted the issue on willfulness to the jury using a preponderance of evidence standard.The U.S. Court of Appeals has yet to weigh in on the correct standard of proof to be applied in a 31 USC § 5321(a) (5(C) willful FBAR penalty case. However,  two recent lower court cases make clear that the higher court will ultimately be called upon to determine the correct standard of proof question.

In Gubser v. Comm’r, 2016 WL, 3129530 (S.D. Tex. May 4, 2016), the taxpayer, a Swiss citizen by birth and later naturalized asa U.S. Citizen maintained a Swiss account, which he opened when he was a young man. The purpose for opening the account was to enable the taxpayer to accumulate savings for his retirement in Switzerland.  Since its opening, the account was always held in Gubser’s name and the funds in the account represented after tax earnings. Grubser retained the services of a CPA, who prepared the taxpayer’s U.S. tax return for over 20 years. During this time, the CPA never raised the question whether the taxpayer had an interest in any foreign financial account. The matter first came to the taxpayer’s attention in 2010 when someone from the CPA’s office raised the question of the existence of foreign financial accounts. Gubser promptly filed an FBAR report for 2009 and subsequent years.  In addition, the taxpayer entered the OVDP, covering the tax years 2003-2010.   Subsequently, Gubser opted out of the OVDP, which resulted in the IRS sending Gubser a  3709 Letter (the FBAR 30 day letter), proposing the50% willful civil FBAR penalty pursuant to 31 USC § 5321(a)(5(C) for the tax year 2008. The penalty in the amount of $1.3M reflected approximately 50% of the taxpayer’s entire life savings.  Grubser filed a timely protest letter with Appeals.  When the taxpayer discussed the matter with the Appeals officer, the Appeals officer told Gubser that the IRS could prove willfulness by using the preponderance of the evidence standard, but not by the clear and convincing standard. The Appeals officer also asked for guidance on the proper standard.

Grubser thereafter filed a declaratory judgment action with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, requesting that the Court declare that the IRS must prove willfulness by clear and convincing evidence. In response the government filed a motion to dismiss based upon lack of standing, arguing that the taxpayer’s injury could not be redressed by a declaratory judgment, since such a judgment would be non-binding on the IRS. The government’s motion was granted and Gruber appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

The second case to watch isU.S. V. August Bohanecand Maria Bohanec (Case No. 215-CV-4347 ddp (FFMx) (filed 12/8/16). In Bohanec, the taxpayers had previously applied for and were denied participation in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), in part, due to several misrepresentations made during the OVDP process. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected the taxpayers’ argument that the government had to show willfulness under the clear and convincing standard of proof, and instead applied the preponderance of evidence standard of proof.  The Court found that the taxpayers’ failure to file FBAR’s for three accounts the taxpayers maintained for over a decade was at least “recklessly indifferent to a statutory duty.” The taxpayers’ attorney has indicated that the taxpayers will appeal the District Court’s decision.

Taxpayers currently participating in the OVDP, who are considering opting out of the Program or those who are thinking of making a disclosure using the Streamlined Procedures certainly need to proceed with caution.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth and Ninth Circuits will ultimately address the correct standard to be applied in the assessment of the willful civil FBAR penalty. These decision(s) will undoubtedly have a significant impact on both current and future taxpayers who have made or are considering making a voluntary disclosure.

The takeaway here is that any decision  involving making an offshore voluntary disclosure should not be made based upon an internet search. Instead, those faced with the decision of making an offshore voluntary disclosure should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced tax attorney, who can assess the specific facts of each case and assess the risks associated with choosing one method of disclosure over another. At the Law Office of Anthony Verni, we know that there is no one size solution to fit all, contact us today or leave a comment below.

© 2017 Anthony N. Verni, Attorney at Law, CPA

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Tax Evasion: No One Is Immune From Prosecution

The U.S Department of Justice, Tax Division:
Federal Tax Prosecutions Continue Unabated

tax evasion lawyer to help with criminal tax prosecutions by the IRSMany taxpayers are skeptical of the IRS and feel that the system is “rigged” against the small guy. These taxpayers may also feel that those with substantial means or political connections can get away with cheating the U.S. government out of its fair share of taxes.  Contrary to public perception, when it comes to criminal prosecution of tax cheats, the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division is an affirmative action prosecutor.

The following examples illustrate that, even those working within the U.S. tax system are subject to prosecution.  It makes no difference whether you are a politician, tax attorney, judge or IRS agent.

Be aware that in the eyes of the U.S. government, a tax cheat is a tax cheat.

Florida State Representative Pleads Guilty To Wire Fraud And Failure To File Federal Income Tax Returns

On September 30, 2016,Reginald Fullwood, a member of the Florida House of Representatives was convicted of one count of wire fraud and one count of failure to file federal income tax returns. According to the documents filed with the court, during his first election bid as well as his campaign for reelection, Fullwood made a number of wire transfers from the “Reggie Fullwood Campaign” bank account to a bank account in the name of Rhino Harbor, LLC, a nominee entity wholly owned by Fullwood.  Fullwood created the nominee entity to conceal his diversion and use of approximately $65,000 in campaign contributions which he used to pay for personal expenses including restaurants, groceries, retail shopping, jewelry purchases, flowers, fuel and liquor.

Former IRS Revenue Officer And Owner Of Tax Consulting Business Pleads Guilty To Tax Evasion

 On October 4, 2016 a former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revenue officer pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and one count of corruptly endeavoring to impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue laws. The plea was taken in the United States District Court, for the Middle District of North Carolina.

According to plea agreement filed with the court, Henti Lucian Baird (“Baird”), a North Carolinian, filed tax returns each year but did not paythe income taxes reflected on his returns,dating back to 1998.  Prior to starting HL Baird’s Tax Consultants in 1989, Baird was a revenue agent with the IRS for 12 years. Baird advertised himself to clients as specializing in “IRS problems, delinquent returns, offer-in-compromise, tax problems, delinquent employee taxes and release of liens and levies.”

Baird evaded paying his federal income taxes  from 1998 to 2013by:(i)creating over 10 nominee bank accounts in the names of his children to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars; (ii) submitting false Form 433-A to an investigating revenue officer that did not reveal all of his nominee bank accounts; (iii) filing a bad faith, Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition wherein Baird submitted a cash offer in compromise, made a request for discharge and an application for subordination of his federal tax lien; and (iv)transferring funds out of nominee accounts to avoid impending IRS levies. During this time period, Baird continued to pay the mortgage on his 4,300 square-foot home, annual fees for a timeshare he owned in Florida and car payments on a BMW.  In an admission to the revenue officer, Baird stated that he did not keep money in bank accounts because he feared a levy or garnishment.

The documents filed with the Court further reveal that Baird used his stepson’s identity, without his knowledge, to apply for a Preparer Tax Identification Number (“PTIN”). ThereafterBaird used his stepson’s PTIN in order to file over 900 income tax returns for clients, as well as his own income tax returns.  Furthermore, despite having his authorization to represent taxpayers revoked by the IRS, Baird submitted, under penalties of perjury, at least 120 Forms 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, on behalf of clients that falsely stated he was an enrolled agent.

As of September 20, 2016 the total amount due in tax, penalties and interest for the tax years 1998-2013 was approximately $477,028.80. It seems that Mr. Baird failed to fully read 26 U.S. Code §7201, the tax evasion statute, which includes willful attempts at evading or defeating the payment of any tax in the definition of tax evasion.

Former United States Tax Court Judge Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Defraud The IRS Of $450,000 In Taxes

On October 21, 2016 Diane L. Kroupa, a former U.S. Tax Court Judge, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States. According to the plea agreement and Kroupa’s testimony, Kroupa was appointed to the United States Tax Court on June 13, 2003 for a term of 15 years. Kroupa was married to Robert E. Fackler, a lobbyist and political consultant who was also named in the indictment. Fackler was the owner/operator of a business known as Grassroots Consulting. For tax purposes, Grassroots Consulting was treated as a sole proprietorship.

From 2004 to 2013, the defendants maintained their principal residence in Plymouth, Minnesota. The defendants also leased a second residence in Easton, Maryland from 2007-2013. The home was leased in order to provide Kroupa with a place to live, while serving as a Judge on the U.S. Tax Court in Washington DC.

The court documents and Kroupa’s testimony further substantiate that between 2002 and 2012, Kroupa and Fackler would annually compile numerous personal expenses that would be included on Schedule C for Grassroots Consulting under the pretext that the expenses constituted ordinary and necessary “business expenses.” The Schedule Cexpenses included: rent and utilities for the Maryland home; utilities, upkeep and renovation expenses of the Minnesota home; Pilates classes; spa and massage fees; jewelry and personal clothing; wine club fees; Chinese language tutoring; music lessons; personal computers; and expenses for vacations to Alaska, Australia, the Bahamas, China, England, Greece, Hawaii, Mexico and Thailand.

In addition, Kroupa would sometimes prepare and provide Fackler with summaries of personal expenses falsely describing the expenses according to business expense category. Kroupa on occasion would also compile and provide fraudulent personal expenses to their tax preparer.The ongoing scheme to defraud the IRS resulted in the defendants deducting $500,000 of personal expenses as ordinary and necessary business expenses on Schedule C.

In addition to the bogus deductions claimed by Kroupa and Fackler,Kroupa made a series of other false claims on the defendants’ tax returns, including failing to report approximately $44,520 that she received from a 2010 land sale in South Dakota and falsely claiming financial insolvency to avoid paying tax on $33,031 on cancellation of indebtedness income that she and her husband received.

In furtherance of their nefarious scheme, Kroupa and Fackler also concealed documents from their tax preparer and an IRS Tax Compliance Officer during an audit of their 2004 and 2005 tax returns.

According to the plea agreement and Kroupa’s testimony at the plea hearing, Kroupa and Fackler delivered false and misleading documents to an IRS employee, during a second audit in 2012,to bolster their claim that certain personal expenses were actually business expenses of Grassroots Consulting. After the IRS requested documents pertaining to their tax returns, Kroupa and Fackler removed certain items from their personal tax files before giving them to their tax preparer because the documents contained potential evidence that Kroupa and Fackler illegally deducted numerous personal expenses.

During the audit, Kroupa also falsely denied receiving money from the 2010 land sale. Later, when they learned the 2012 audit might progress into a criminal investigation, Kroupa instructed Fackler to lie to the IRS about her involvement in preparing the portion of their tax returns related to Grassroots Consulting.

Kroupa and Fackler’s scheme to defraud the IRS resulted in the deliberate understating of their taxable income for the tax years 2004-2010 by approximately $1,000,000, resulting in approximately $450,000 in federal income taxes evaded.

Shea Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the St. Paul Field Office put it in perspective by stating:

“Those charged with upholding the laws are not above the law. While serving as a United States Tax Court Judge, Diane Kroupa conspired to break the law by evading the taxes she owed. Her actions were not only unlawful and dishonest, but they were a theft from the American public. No matter what your position, it is unacceptable to cheat the system that provides the government services and protections that we all enjoy. IRS Special Agents will continue to pursue tax cheats at all levels of society, regardless of position or status.”

Former IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Charged

On October 26, 2016 a federal grand jury in Sacramento, California charged a former Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) special agent with six counts of filing false income tax returns, one count of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the Internal Revenue laws, one count of theft of government money and one count of destroying records during a federal investigation.

According to the allegations in the amended indictment, Alena Aleykina (“Aleykina”), a certified public accountant and former IRS-CI special agent, filed false individual income tax returns for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 by claiming false filing statutes, dependents, deductions and losses and tax returns on behalf of two trusts.

The indictment also alleges that, between 2008 and 2013, Aleykina attempted to obstruct the IRS by preparing false tax returns for herself, family members, trusts and partnerships and by making false statements to representatives of the Department of the Treasury.  In addition, Aleykina attempted to obstruct a federal investigation by destroying evidence on a government computer.  Finally, Aleykina was charged with fraudulently causing the IRS to issue IRS Tuition Assistance Reimbursement payments to her.

Tax Attorney And CPA Indicted For Tax Evasion And Diversion Of Tax Shelter Fees From Major Manhattan Law Firm

On October 26, 2016 Harold Levine (“Levine”), a Manhattan tax attorney, and Ronald Katz (“Katz”), a Florida certified public account, were charged in the U.S. District Court in New York with an eight-count indictment related to a multi-year tax evasion scheme. According to the indictment, the defendants diverted millions of dollars of fees from Levine’s Manhattan law firm and failed to report millions of dollars in fee income to the Internal Revenue Service.

The allegations in the indictment assert that Levine, the former head of the tax department at a major New York City Law Firm schemed with Katz, to divert from the Law Firm over $3 million in fee income from tax shelter and related transactions that Levine worked on while serving as a partner of the New York Law Firm.  The indictment further alleges that Levine failed to report that fee income to the IRS on his personal tax returns during the period 2005-2011.  Not to be excluded, the indictment also charged Katz with receiving and failing to report over $1.2 million in fee income to the IRS.

In order to carry out the nefarious scheme, Levine caused tax shelter fees paid by Law Firm clients to be routed to a partnership entity he co-owned with Katz, rather than being paid directly to the Law Firm. Thereafter, it is alleged that Levine used approximately $500,000 of those fees to purchase a home in Levittown, New York.  In an attempt to conceal the diversion, Levine purchased the Levittown home in the name of a Law Firm Employee with whom Levine had a personal relationship with.

For a period of five years Levine allowed the Law Firm Employee to reside in the Levittown house without paying rent. Even though the Law Firm Employee lived at the residence rent free, Levine and Katz prepared tax returns for the partnership through which the home was purchased and treated the home as a rental property thereby falsely claiming deductions related to the property.

When Levine was questioned by IRS agents concerning his involvement in the tax shelter transactions and the fees received for those transactions, Levine falsely represented that the Law Firm Employee paid him $1,000 per month in rent while living in the Levittown home.  In addition, after the Law Firm Employee was contacted by the IRS and summoned to appear for testimony, Levinecoached the employee to represent falsely to the IRS that she had paid $1,000 per month in rent to Levine.

IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen said:

“Tax and accounting professionals who conceal their incomes, evade income taxes, and otherwise obstruct the Internal Revenue Service simply have no excuse for violating the very laws their professions are centered on.  IRS-Criminal Investigation works hard to ensure that everyone pays their fair sure and we take particular interest in allegations involving professionals who should simply know better.”

Former Business Professor Pays $100 Million Penalty in Tax Fraud Case

On November 4, 2016, Dan Horsky (“Horsky”), age 71, pleaded guilty to his role in a financial fraud conspiracy involving a foreign bank account totaling more than $200M and further agreed to pay a civil penalty in the amount of $100M.

According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Horsky is a citizen of the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. He was employed for more than 30 years as a professor of business administration at a university located in New York.  On or about 1995, Horsky started making investments in a number of start-up companies. The investments were made using financial accounts, which Horsky set up, at various offshore banks, including one bank in Zurich, Switzerland.  Horsky created “Horsky Holdings,” a nominee entity, to hold some of the investments. He used the Horsky Holdings account, and later, other accounts at the Zurich-based bank, to conceal his financial transactions and financial accounts from the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department.

Horsky made various investments in Company A through the Horsky Holdings account. The funds used to make the investments represented Horsky’s own money, money provided by his father and sister, and margin loans from the Zurich-based bank.  Company A was purchased by Company B for $1.8 billion in an all cash transaction. At this time, Horsky held a 4% interest in Company A.  Horsky received approximately $80 million in net proceeds from the sale of Company A’s stock, but he only disclosed approximately $7 million of his gain from that sale to the IRS. As a result, Horsky paid taxes on just that fraction of his share of the proceeds.  In 2008, and in subsequent years, Horsky invested in Company B’s stock using funds from his accounts at the Zurich-based bank and by 2013, his investments in Company B, combined with other unreported offshore assets, reached approximately $200 million.

To further conceal his ownership in the foreign financial accounts, in 2011, Horsky caused another individual to have signature authority over his Zurich-based bank accounts, and this individual assumed the responsibility of providing instructions as to the management of the accounts at Horsky’s direction.  This arrangement was intended to conceal Horsky’s interest in and control over these accounts from the IRS as well as to conceal the income generated from these accounts.

CONCLUSION

The average taxpayer can find comfort in knowing that in the world of U.S. tax compliance, no one gets a pass.  The U.S. tax system is based upon voluntary compliance and the principle that each U.S. taxpayer has an obligation to report his income honestly and further is expected to pay his fair share of federal income tax.  The preceding examples are just a sampling of recent prosecutions and are not intended as an exhaustive list.

“No matter what your position, it is unacceptable to cheat the system that provides the government services and protections that we all enjoy. IRS Special Agents will continue to pursue tax cheats at all levels of society, regardless of position or status.”

Shea Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the St. Paul Field Office commenting on the Kroupa conviction.

©2016 ANTHONY N. VERNI, ATTORNEY AT LAW, CPA

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Taxation of Professional Athletes & Entertainers – Are You At Risk?

An athlete running, thinking about the reporting of taxes to the irsThe Risks of Professional Athlete and Entertainer Taxation

Global sports and entertainment have created many new opportunities as well as challenges for those individuals, who are multi-jurisdictional earners.  The IRS has taken a keen interest in cross border sports and entertainment in the context of U.S. tax enforcement. This scrutiny has been expanded to include directors, producers, technicians, managers, promoters as well as others.

Recognizing that professional athletes and entertainers  are globally mobile  and have unlimited earning capacity, the IRS  formed a task force charged  with the  responsibility of improving federal tax compliance among high income athletes and entertainers, through taxpayer awareness and increased enhanced enforcement efforts.

Other countries are likewise interested in professional athletes and entertainers, who earn income while performing services in venues outside of the U.S. Recent global tax enforcement initiatives signal that athletes and entertainers who evade taxes within and without the United States will be vigorously pursued. Specifically, the standards contained in FATCA and the Common Reporting Standards will facilitate the mutual exchange of information, transparency and the detection of those who are determined to evade paying their fair share of income taxes to the United States and its global partners.

In determining whether a professional athlete or entertainer is subject to U.S. income tax, the IRS will always key in on whether the athlete or entertainer is a resident for federal income tax purposes. The IRS will also look at how the income is characterized, whether the athlete or entertainer made use of a shell company or other device to avoid paying U.S. tax and whether the individual unreasonably relied upon a tax treaty or income allocation.A map of the world where U.S. expatirates live outside the United States but are still required to pay foreign income tax to the IRS

A U.S. tax resident is subject to U.S. income tax on his or her worldwide income.

As such, whether an athlete or entertainer is a resident for U.S. income tax purposes is the critical starting point.  Generally, U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens are considered U.S. tax residents and subject to federal income tax on their worldwide income.

In certain circumstances even a non-resident can be considered a U.S. tax resident if the individual spends the requisite number of days in the United States. A non-resident who is physically present in the United State for 183 days or more during a calendar year is considered a U.S. tax resident. A non-resident can also meet the physical presence test under a formula. If an individual is present in the United States for less than 183 days during a single tax year he or she may nevertheless be considered a U.S. tax resident in that year if the individual spends at least 31 days in the United States in the current year and, by application of a certain carryover formula, where the number of days in the United States in the current year plus the number of days from the prior two years equals 183 days or more.

Finally, a non-resident, who files and signs a joint tax return with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, may also, be subject to federal income tax based upon his or her worldwide income.

Residency for federal tax purposes is significant to the IRS for the following reasons:

      1. Athletes and entertainers, who are considered tax residents of the United States, are subject to U.S. income tax on their worldwide income. As such, the IRS is particularly interested in determining whether the athlete or entertainer received income from foreign sources, and if so, whether that income was properly reflected on the individual’s U.S. tax return.
      2. Foreign athletes and entertainers, who are considered non-residents for U.S. tax purposes, are only subject to U.S. income taxon compensation received for services rendered in the United States, as well as royalties, rents from investments in U.S. real property, dividends, interest, and income derived from U.S. business operations. The IRS will focus on these individuals to determine if the foreign athlete or entertainer is reporting his or her U.S. source income. The IRS will also scrutinize the number of days a foreign athlete or entertainer spends in the United States for purposes of determining whether the individual meets the physical presence test.The unintended consequences of a non-resident athlete or entertainer, who is present for 183 days or otherwise meets the physical presence test under the formula, can be financially devastating.

Many professional athletes and entertainers may not be aware of their U.S. filing and reporting obligations if they are represented by a tax professional that is unfamiliar with cross border tax reporting.  Too often, athletes and entertainers rely upon professional agents and management companies for direction in selecting legal, accounting and tax professionals to assist them with their financial affairs.  Relying upon a professional agent or management company in the selection of a tax professional is inherently suspect and should be avoided at all costs.  The simple reason for this is lack of independence. Moreover, while a recommended tax professional may have a general understanding of U.S. taxation, the individual may not be familiar with the mechanics of taxation in a multi-jurisdictional context.

Similarly, athletes and entertainers who rely upon friends or family in vetting and selecting a tax professional may eventually find themselves at odds with the Internal Revenue Service. An athlete or entertainer may also continue to use his or her existing tax professional out of loyalty, due to a personal relationship or based upon the assumption that the tax professional has the requisite experience, skill and knowledge related to cross border earners. However well intended, these methods for selecting a tax professional can result in adverse tax consequences.

A an athlete or entertainer, who fails to comply with his or her U.S. Tax and filing obligations can be subject to civil and criminal penalties. In cases where the athlete or entertainer has engaged in a systematic pattern of non-compliance, the individual may be subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment and heavy fines. The IRS is particularly interested in the prosecution of famous athletes and entertainers, since the IRS considers high profile prosecutions a strong deterrent to potential tax cheats.

Running afoul of the U.S. tax laws may also result in loss of work visas and deportation of green card holders and individuals in the United States on visas. In addition, where the IRS has assessed income tax, an athlete or entertainer may not be permitted to leave the United States until federal tax liability is satisfied.

If you are a professional athlete or entertainer, you should speak with a tax attorney. Even athletes or entertainers who are currently in high school or college and anticipate signing a lucrative contract, it would be wise to speak with a tax attorney for purposes of evaluating the tax implications.

A final word of caution unrelated to the topic of taxation. Never permit an agent, accountant, attorney or financial manager to manage your financial affairs or have access to your assets.  The investment, reporting and custody functions should always remain segregated as a safeguard against potential misappropriation of assets or making ill-advised investments. Any appearance of a conflict of interest should be a red flag. If a financial advisor, attorney or accountant suggests an investment, you should always get an independent attorney opinion prior to parting with your hard earned money.  Just ask Hall of Famer, Scotty Pippen or superstar singer Rihanna.

© 2016 Anthony N. Verni, Attorney at Law, Certified Public Accountant

November 12, 2016

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Offshore Tax Compliance Prosecutions by the IRS

Offshore Tax Compliance Update fbar penalties for tax evasion can include imprisionment if the IRS seeks to criminally prosecute you

Offshore Tax Compliance Update – Recent IRS Tax Prosecutions

The following convictions represent recent successful prosecutions by the Department of Justice, Tax Division and reinforce the Government’s commitment to ferret out tax cheats, wherever they may be located.

Case 1

On October 7, 2016 a Michigan business man and owner of several mining related businesses, pleaded guilty to concealing $2.6 million held in a Swiss bank account.

According to the facts set forth in the plea agreement, the defendant transferred $2.6 million from his parents trust account to a bank account at Credit Suisse. In order to conceal the account from IRS detection, the defendant set up Hong Kong Company and had the Credit Suisse account held in the company name. The Hong Kong Company’s only business purpose was to act as the named account holder. The defendant falsely states on his 2008-2012 federal income tax returns that he had no interest in a foreign financial account and also failed to report the income from the Credit Suisse account. To exacerbate matters, in 2010 the defendant filed an amended tax return for the tax year 2008. Once again, the defendant failed to report the income generated in 2008 from the Credit Suisse account.https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/michigan-business-owner-pleads-guilty-concealing-swiss-bank-account

Case 2

On September 28, 2016, a New York City resident pleaded guilty to using a sham foreign entity and numbered accounts in Switzerland and Israel in order to evade taxes.

From 1987 to 2008 the defendant maintained a number of undeclared foreign financial accounts and accounts at UBS held in the name of Contactus Partnership Associated, SA (Contactus) a sham entity organized in the British Virgin Islands.In 2008 the defendant closed the UBS accounts and transferred the assets to a newly opened account at Clariden Leu. The newly opened account was held in the name Contactus.

Shortly thereafter the defendant closed the account at Clariden Leu and transferred the assets to a newly opened Swiss bank account in the name of the same sham entity. The defendant was successful in getting the Swiss Bank to falsely record the defendant’s Belgian cousin as the owner of the assets in the Contactus account. Six months later the defendant closed the Contactus account at the Swiss Bank and transferred the assets to a newly opened bank account in Israel held in the name of a different cousin.From 2005-2011 the defendant also maintained an undeclared account at Bank Leumi in Israel   under the name of a non-resident alien, residing outside of the United States.

In 2010 the defendant was able to obtain an Israeli Identity Card. The defendant then opened an account in his own name at Bank Leumi, claiming that the defendant resided in the United Kingdom. He also signed a document under penalty of perjury affirming that he was not a U.S. Citizen.

Subsequently, the defendant repatriated the funds from his undeclared accounts to the United States.  In order to carry out the scheme, the defendant had his attorney draw up a sham loan agreement between the defendant and Contactus and then caused the funds to be transferred to his attorney escrow account.

The defendant filed fraudulent federal and New York State tax returns by deliberately omitting the income from the foreign financial accounts and by failing to pay income taxes on the omitted income. As a result, the defendant was able to evade paying $653,580 in federal income tax for the tax years 2002-2005 and 2007-2010.

The defendant also failed to report his ownership and control of his foreign financial accounts on FinCen Form 114 despite being advised by an accounting firm that he had an obligation to file FinCen Form 114 and that failure to do so could result in civil and criminal penalties being imposed. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/new-york-city-resident-pleads-guilty-using-sham-foreign-entity-and-secret-foreign-accounts

Case 3

On September 21, 2016 a Weston Connecticut man pleaded guilty to concealing over 1.5 million in income from an undeclared foreign financial account.

According to the DOJ press release, the defendant conspired with another individual in the United States and others to conceal his assets and income. The scheme was designed to evade paying income tax derived from the sale of duty free alcohol and tobacco products. The defendant used a sham entity, Centennial Group, a registered Panamanian corporation to buy and sell duty free products. In order to carry out the scheme, the defendant arranged to have alcohol shipped through a custom bonded warehouse in the Foreign Trade zone in Southern Florida. The tobacco products passed through a customs bonded warehouse in North Bergen, New Jersey. In total, the defendant was able to transfer $1,627,832 to his undeclared bank account in Panama. The defendant repatriated some of the proceeds from his Panamanian account for the purchase of a Mercedes and to pay $19,000 in interior design goods. The defendant failed to report the income earned on his Panamanian account and also failed to file an FBAR for the relevant tax years. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/connecticut-man-pleads-guilty-concealing-income-undeclared-panamanian-bank-account

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo reaffirmed that “the Department of the Treasury will: “continue to vigorously pursue and prosecuted those who conceal their assets and income in offshore accounts in an effort to evade paying their fair share of taxes.”

The above prosecutions have common some common elements including:

  • The establishment of a Foreign Financial Account.
  • The creation of a sham entity for purposes of becoming the named account holder of the Foreign Financial Account.
  • Actions taken by the true account holder to conceal the existence of the Foreign Financial Account as well as the income generated from the account.

©2016 Anthony N. Verni, Attorney at Law, Certified Public Accountant

11/11/2016

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Delinquent IRS Trust Fund Taxes Update

The Trust Fund Penalty for Delinquent IRS Trust Fund Taxes

Delinquent IRS Trust Fund Taxes Update. Avoiding the Trust Fund Recovery Penaly by properly classifying employees instead of independent contractorsIf you owe back payroll taxes, you should hire a capable Tax Attorney, who is experienced and familiar with the rules pertaining to the application of the Trust Fund Penalty. The IRS considers unpaid Trust Fund Taxes a serious matter and has made collection of these taxes a priority.

This is based upon two factors. First, as of September 2015, $59 Billion in payroll taxes remained outstanding.Second, approximately 69% of all taxes collected by the IRS are income taxes that are withheld from employers. The heightened scrutiny is evidenced by Assistant Attorney General, Caroline D. Ciraolo’s, statement made during a key note address at the American Bar Association’s 27th annual Philadelphia Tax Conference on November 2, 2016.

“Among our top priorities is civil and criminal employment tax enforcement. Employment tax violations represent $91 billion dollars of our country’s $458 billion dollar gross tax gap, and as of June 30, 2016 more than $59 billion reported on quarterly employment tax returns remained unpaid.”https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/principal-deputy-assistant-attorney-general-caroline-d-ciraolo-delivers-keynote-address

In addition, recent prosecutions and convictions make clear that “the willful failure to comply with employment tax obligations is a crime – plain and simple.” https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/nevada-business-owner-and-bookkeeper-sentenced-employment-tax-crimes.

The following is representative sample of criminal prosecutions and convictions for unpaid employment taxes.

  1. On October 26, 2016, Michigan owners of sixteen adult foster care homes were indicted for failure to pay employment taxes. From September 2010 through 2014, the owners withheld payroll taxes from their employee paycheck, but failed to file employment tax returns and also failed to pay over the trust fund taxes they collected.https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/michigan-owners-sixteen-adult-foster-care-homes-indicted-failure-pay-employment-taxes
  1. On October 25, 2016, Kyle Archie was sentenced to 10 months in prison for failure to pay over employment taxes for the tax years 2003-2009 related several entities including Reno Rock, Inc., GKPA Inc. and D Rockeries, Inc. . https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/nevada-business-owner-and-bookkeeper-sentenced-employment-tax-crimes
  1. On October 18, 2016 two West Virginian business owners pled guilty for failing to pay employment taxes. The defendants operated a construction business from July 2007 through 2010. The defendants also failed to pay over $490,000 in employment taxes for a prior business. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/west-virginia-business-owners-plead-guilty-failing-pay-employment-taxes
  1. On September 15, 2016 a North Carolina man pled guilty to failing to pay employment taxes. The defendant operated an audio business in Burlington, North Carolina. From 2008-2011 the defendant failed to pay over employment taxes withheld from his employees. Instead, the defendant used the trust fund taxes https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/north-carolina-man-pleads-guilty-failing-pay-employment-taxes

In April of 2015 the IRS launched the Federal Tax Deposit X Coded Pilot Program.

The Program was designed to test the impact of alternate Alert treatments such as Soft Notices and Revenue Officer visits and identify which taxpayers benefit most from the alerts. In addition, In addition, the IRS plans to roll out Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (“EFTPS”) in 2017. According to the IRS, the EFTPS will modify the Federal Tax Deposit platform by creating a near real time system to identify variances in Federal Tax Deposits.  These initiatives are designed to improve collection case selection, assignment to agents, and enable the IRS to make data driven decisions regarding taxpayer contacts.

The takeaway here is that failure to pay Trust Fund Taxes can result in substantial penalties as well as imprisonment. If you have unpaid payroll taxes you should immediately contact a Tax Attorney.

© Anthony N. Verni, Attorney at Law, Certified Public Accountant

11/10/2016

 

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Michigan Man Pleads Guilty To Tax Obstruction

“ANOTHER KNUCKLEHEAD BITES THE DUST”

fbar penalties for tax evasion can include imprisionment if the IRS seeks to criminally prosecute youThe definition of a Knucklehead is“someone considered to be of questionable intelligence.”

On October 7, 2016 a Michigan business man plead guilty to tax obstruction for filing a false amended tax return for the tax year 2008. The guilty plea echoes the sentiments of Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation that: “There are no safe havens for hiding money in secret bank accounts around the globe.” The case also makes clear that substance will always prevail over form for purposes of determining the true beneficial owner of a foreign financial account or asset and whether the income from any such account or asset is subject to U.S. tax. The following case is just one of many examples of the pervasive use by U.S. Taxpayers of abusive offshore tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of getting caught.

On or about November of 2004,  Robert Rumbold (“Rumbold” or the “Defendant”), a manager of a trust account owned by his parents, transferred $2.6m from his parents’ account into Credit Suisse Bank AG in Switzerland. In order to evade income tax and to conceal the identity of the beneficial owner, the Defendant arranged for the account to be held in the name of Wisdom City Limited, a Hong Kong company. Although Wisdom City Limited was set up to be the named the account holder, the Defendant effectively controlled and was the beneficial owner of the account until December 2008, when Rumbold transferred control to a relative.

Rumbold failed to report any interest, dividends or capital gains received from the Wisdom City Limited Credit Suisse account on the Defendant’s personal tax returns for the tax years 2006-2008. The Defendant also falsely stated on each of his three tax returns that he did not have an interest in any foreign financial account.  In 2010 the Defendant amended his 2008 income tax return, where he once again failed to report the income generated from the foreign financial account and failed to make any disclosure concerning his interest in the Wisdom City Limited Credit Suisse account.

The takeaways from this case are the following:

  1. A U.S. Taxpayer’s worldwide income is subject to federal income tax;
  2. Depending upon the circumstances, a U.S. Taxpayer may have to comply with certain financial reporting requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act and FATCA and may be required to make other financial disclosures;
  3. Irrespective of the form, abusive offshore tax avoidance schemes (“tax schemes”) are devised for the purpose of carrying out two objectives: First, to conceal the true identity of the owner of any foreign financial account or other foreign financial asset; and Second, to conceal income derived from those foreign assets that is subject to tax by the United States;
  4. These tax schemes may include, but are not limited to, the use of foreign trusts, foreign corporations, offshore partnerships, limited liability companies, and international business companies. The tax schemes can also include using anon-resident alien or maintaining funds in a foreign attorney’s trust fund account in order to carry out a taxpayer’s nefarious plan;
  5. The element of intent in a criminal tax prosecution more often than not is proven by circumstantial rather than direct evidence. Therefore, it logically follows that the more elaborate the tax scheme is, the easier it will be to establish intent. . Remember! “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck;” and
  6. Taxpayers, attempting to game the system, by creating and/or participating in these knucklehead schemes will eventually find themselves in deep trouble due to recent global tax enforcement initiatives and the financial reporting requirements established under the Bank Secrecy Act, FATCA, the Common Reporting Standards and other protocols.

If you are the architect, principal or a participant in such a tax scheme, you are either aware or should be aware that what you are doing is illegal. If you do not think what you are doing is illegal, you are probably in a state of denial. You only need ask yourself: “Does it pass the smell test?”

Any path to redemption with the IRS involves taking personal responsibility, making a conscious decision to right the ship and thereafter taking remedial action.  Remember, you can generally recover from a financial setback. In contrast, imprisonment and the financial and emotional toll to you and your family may be insurmountable.

The immediate action should start with your speaking with a tax attorney to discuss your particular situation and evaluating whether making an offshore voluntary disclosure is a viable option for you.

© Anthony N. Verni, Attorney at Law, Certified Public Accountant   10/13/2016

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Outrunning the IRS: FBAR Statute of Limitations Guidelines

FBAR statute of limitations can cause a criminal investigation into tax fraud by the IRS

What Happens If Someone Fails to File an FBAR?

A wrinkle in the law for those with interests in or signature authority over foreign financial accounts, including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds, trusts, or other type of foreign financial accounts, exceeding certain threshold is the requirement that such persons file an FBAR or “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts.” This filing obligation was intended to curb the use of foreign accounts to evade U.S. income tax. As a result, FBAR reporting forms are now required by the IRS and enforced through the Bank Secrecy Act, which require that you file reports annually. So what happens if you fail to file an FBAR and how long do you have to wait before you are in the clear? 

The Statute of Limitations is Six Years or longer.

The IRS says 6 years, judged from when the FBAR was due is the tolling time for the statute of limitations. That’s June 30 following the calendar year being reported. For instance, the 2016 FBAR is due June 30, 2017, and the statute runs on June 30, 2023.

Even with the bright line six-year statute of limitations, the IRS can also use another date. According to 31 U.S.C. 5321(b) the statute of limitations is judged as six years from the time of the “transaction.” The problem with this murky language is that the Internal Revenue Manual does not define or interpret when a transaction occurs for the purposes of the FBAR due date.

There is also a question with respect to U.S. Taxpayers who reside outside of the United States and whether the statute is suspended for purposes of FBAR compliance while the Taxpayer is outside of the United States, consistent with treatment under the Internal Revenue Code with respect to income.

While the IRS requires you file an FBAR and sets out the statute of limitations on filing, FBARs are administered by the Department of Treasury and its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Despite this administration authority the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network delegated its FBAR authority to the IRS in 2003.

It is important to note, the United States Tax Court, in Williams v. Commissioner determined that it did not have jurisdiction to consider FBAR penalties. As such, Taxpayers do not have the benefit of pre-payment judicial review.

The IRS has tremendous discretion to determine what constitutes a transaction for the purposes of FBAR and assess FBAR penalties and also the circumstances under which the statute of limitations may be tolled.

Additionally, when it comes to the statute of limitations, closing your accounts and waiting the six year period may seem like the best option at first, but quietly closing accounts and disposing of funds could conceivably backfire.

The IRS may view this action as evidence of evasion or consciousness of guilt. Making this move could put you in a worse position than if you had kept the accounts open and started reporting them prospectively.

If you do choose to close your accounts and manage to make it six full years from your last “transaction” before the IRS notices, you may be in the clear. However, with tremendous deference and authority granted to the IRS to determine what constitutes a transaction and when the statute of limitations truly tolls, as well as determine penalties for FBAR violators, this is a high risk proposition. The IRS has, in the past, argued in income tax cases that this type of “close shop and wait” action is a blatant cover up of a continuing and ongoing criminal activity.

Choices in regards to the FBAR filings and statute of limitations can be extremely difficult. The possibility of large penalties and possible criminal implications require that you seek you legal advice based on your particular situation. There is no one-sized fits all response to FBAR filing and the statute of limitations. Consult your tax attorney before making any decisions regarding FBAR and the statute of limitations.

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Money Laundering Is Tax Evasion

Money Laundering is the same thing as tax evasion according to the IRSMoney Laundering and Tax Evasion

Money laundering and tax evasion are closely related. The IRS has used money laundering statutes to help cut down on tax evasion. Money laundering may be seen as willful tax evasion. Hiding money will off course lead to not paying taxes on the same.

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering is a common occurrence today. Global concern surrounding this nefarious activity is based upon the theory that failure to report and account for this activity erodes the economic base of national economies. Individuals and organizations involved in criminal activity attempt to obscure the illegal source of the funds in an effort to avoid detection from law enforcement officials.

These funds commonly referred to as “dirty money” are the by-product of illegal activities such as drug and human trafficking, gambling, elaborate fraud schemes, and terrorism. Historically, criminals have utilized foreign financial institutions for purposes of “washing” dirty money through legitimate enterprises in order to avoid the scrutiny of taxing authorities.

Recent Global initiatives in combating money laundering including criminal prosecution, and the imposition of stiff criminal penalties have heightened foreign financial institution awareness and willingness to cooperate with authorities.  Moreover, new reporting requirements, mutual exchange of information agreements and coordination of local, national and global law enforcement agencies will make it more difficult for individuals to avoid detection.

How does money laundering work?

The main objective behind money laundering is to obscure the illegal source of the funds, thereby enabling the criminal to use the money without detection. The process is complex as it involves several financial transactions which may be carried out through various financial outlets in various countries. There are so many ways in which individuals hide money derived from criminal activities to avoid detection. Some of them are:

  • Depositing a large sum of money earned illegally in small amounts in a financial institution under different fake names.
  • Depositing a large sum of money earned illegally in small amounts by using various bearer instruments like money orders.
  • Creating a Trust or Corporation or a non-profit organization or an account under a different name in a different country and moving large sums of money there.

The hidden money is then accessed through debit cards, credit cards, money orders or cash withdrawals. Check this article “Caribbean based investment advisors and an attorney”  to see how Caribbean based investment advisors and an attorney colluded in their efforts to helping US Citizens hide money abroad.

Tax Evasion

Tax evasion is the wilful attempt to evade or defeat the assessment of taxes or the payment of taxes. The act of evasion occurs when a taxpayer either willfully fails to report his or her income as required by law, or having reported the income, engages in conduct that either hinders or defeats any attempt by the IRS in collecting the tax owed. In the latter case, the taxpayer prevents IRS from collecting by moving assets around under different ownership. An example would be: A taxpayer reports his income and has a tax liability. He has the money to pay the liability but instead, he closes all his bank accounts and moves the money to a different account under a different name. This is a clear indication of wilful tax evasion. For more on Tax evasion, check IRS Tax Crimes handbook.

Is money laundering therefore tax evasion?

In the U.S., money laundering is tax evasion but not all tax evasion is money laundering. According to IRS, money laundering is tax evasion in progress if the underlying conduct violates income tax laws and Bank Secrecy Act.  If you are a U.S. citizen/ permanent resident, the law requires you to report your income and pay taxes on the same.

As a U.S. taxpayer, when you are involved in money laundering, it is obvious that you are hiding the money in question. The reason may be because the money is from criminal activities you are involved in and you do not want your cover to be blown. In this case, you want to hide the dirty source of your money through laundering to be able to spend it without worrying about the IRS and the tax consequences. Alternatively, the main reason behind your hiding the money may be because you are actually running away from paying your taxes. Either way, this is tax evasion engineered through money laundering. It does not matter if the income is legal or illegal, you have to pay your taxes or else the IRS will somehow catch up with you some day. It is even worse when your income is from criminal activities since there may be additional consequences for the underlying crime. I think this is why individuals who engage in criminal activities choose to launder their money to avoid detection by the government for the fear of facing criminal prosecution.  While doing so, they are evading their responsibility to pay taxes.

Is there a way out of this money laundering mess?

You may have been involved in money laundering and off course tax evasion in the process and may be you are tired of hiding.  Your question may be “can I really make it right? Is there really a clean way out?” While there is no guarantee of avoiding criminal prosecution, there is still a chance to make it right. This is by getting into the OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program). You have to get a pre-clearance letter from the IRS to be accepted into the OVDP. You do this by providing all information on all foreign financial accounts, filing amended income returns for all the years in question etc.  Once approved, you will be able to enter into “Closing Agreement” with the IRS which means that the IRS will not revisit the matter again.

The Closing Agreement may differ from one case to another since one size does not fit all. This sounds easy, right? It may seem so but the whole process requires a careful evaluation of all the facts. If you need help walking through this, contact The Law Office of Anthony Verni . We can help you evaluate your situation and devise the best strategy to follow.