WASHINGTON – With the annual tax filing deadline approaching on April 15, the Justice Department today announced highlights of its work during the past year to defend and enforce the nation’s tax laws. The Tax Division has worked together with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to carry out their combined tax enforcement missions in several critical areas, including prosecuting tax fraud and evasion, halting the spread of abusive tax shelters, tracking down tax cheats who use offshore accounts, and combating stolen identity refund fraud. Previously, the division announced that it has shut down more than 30 fraudulent tax preparers over the past six months.
The Tax Division’s primary purpose is to enforce the nation’s tax laws fully, fairly, and consistently, through both criminal and civil litigation. Some of the division’s accomplishments from the past fiscal year (FY 2012) include:
· Favorable outcomes were achieved in over 95 percent of all civil and criminal cases litigated by the Tax Division.
· The division authorized 938 grand jury investigations and 1,751 prosecutions of individual defendants.
· Division prosecutors obtained 127 indictments and 137 convictions. Those figures do not include additional criminal tax prosecutions handled exclusively by U.S. Attorney’s Offices nationwide.
· The division collected over $290 million through affirmative civil litigation and retained over $1.1 billion through defensive tax refund and other litigation.
· Taking into account the tax dollars collected and refunds not paid as a result of our successful litigation efforts, over the past five fiscal years (FY 2008-2012), the division’s attorneys have returned to the Federal Treasury an average of $14 for each dollar invested.
“As honest taxpayers prepare to meet their filing obligations by April 15, they should know that we are committed to enforcing the tax laws against those who would cheat on their responsibilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally. “The department will continue to use all available law enforcement tools to recover tax revenue and to punish tax offenders.”
“The IRS and Department of Justice have made significant strides in recent months to combat tax fraud, identity theft, and offshore tax evasion,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller. “We appreciate the Justice Department’s strong support and cooperation to protect the interests of the nation’s taxpayers.”
Prosecuting Tax Offenses
The Tax Division has supervisory authority over all criminal conduct involving federal tax laws. The Division has always maintained as a central focus the investigation and prosecution of tax crimes, including tax evasion, failure to file returns, submission of false tax returns, and other conduct designed to violate federal tax laws. Tax Division attorneys are also particularly adept at prosecuting tax defiers—those individuals who purposefully refuse to comply with the tax laws and use frivolous arguments to support their positions.
Some of the Tax Division’s criminal tax prosecution highlights from the past year include:
· April 2013 - Jeffrey Charles of Grimstead, Va., was sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution for conspiracy, aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, and filing a false tax return.
· March 2013 - Tyrone Thompson, a Georgia tax return preparer, was sentenced to 137 months in prison and ordered to pay $516,363 in restitution for conspiracy and filing fraudulent tax returns in order to receive tax refunds to which he was not entitled.
· March 2013 - Timothy Turner, the self-proclaimed “president” of the so-called sovereign citizen group “Republic for the United States of America” (RuSA), was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States, attempting to pay taxes with fictitious financial instruments, attempting to obstruct and impede the IRS, failing to file a 2009 federal income tax return, and falsely testifying under oath.
· January 2013 - Michael Wayne Davis, II, of Raleigh, N.C., formerly of Eagle, Idaho, was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $1 million in restitution for wire fraud and filing a false tax return. Davis formerly owned Xpress Flex Inc., a Boise-based company that administered employee-benefit plans, and Payroll America, a Boise payroll services company.
· October 2012 - James Norman Turek, former president of a Lexington, Ky., based company, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for securities fraud and tax fraud. The evidence showed that Turek, through his company, Plasticon International Inc., defrauded thousands of investors nationwide out of more than $18 million, and that he filed false tax returns by failing to report approximately $12 million.
· June 2012 - Richard Stewart of Mitchellville, Md., was sentenced to 24 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,414,647 in restitution for failing to pay over employment taxes in connection with his ownership of Montgomery Mechanical Services.
Halting the Spread of Tax Shelters
The Tax Division plays a critical role in the government's efforts to combat abusive tax shelters.These cases involve more than a billion dollars in tax revenue, and affect billions more owed by other taxpayers.In recent years, the division’s civil litigators at both the trial and appellate levels have won important victories in cases involving tax shelters with names such as Son of BOSS, BLIPS, CARDS, DAD and SILO/LILO.
Some of the division’s successes this year include:
· February 2013 - the division prevailed in a tax shelter case involving $1 billion in phony tax deductions claimed by a major U.S. corporation as a result of two abusive tax shelter transactions. In United States v. Chemtech Royalty Associates, L.P., the federal district court in Baton Rouge, La., following a lengthy trial, determined that the shelter transactions lacked economic substance and that the partnership at issue should be disregarded because it had no purpose other than to create tax benefits. In addition to rejecting the purported tax benefits from these transactions, the court also imposed penalties.
· February 2013 - the division’s appellate section successfully defended a favorable Tax Court ruling in Crispin v. Commissioner, a case involving the CARDS tax shelter. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both the denial of the claimed tax benefits and the imposition of a 40 percent gross-valuation-misstatement penalty.
· January 2013 - the division’s appellate section secured a reversal of the lone trial court decision that had upheld the purported tax benefits generated by the “lease-in/lease-out” (LILO) tax shelter, in Consolidated Edison Co. v. United States, a case decided by the Federal Circuit.
Investigating Offshore Evasion
The Tax Division continues to play a leading role in investigations and prosecutions involving the use of foreign tax havens. According to a 2008 Senate report, the use of secret offshore accounts to evade U.S. taxes costs the Treasury at least $100 billion annually. The Division is committed to investigating offshore tax evasion around the globe. The division’s current offshore program began in 2008, with the investigation of UBS, which resulted in the 2009 UBS deferred prosecution agreement . Since 2008, the division has charged a total of 30 banking professionals and 62 account holders, which charges have so far resulted in three convictions after trial and 55 guilty pleas, including 16 guilty pleas this year alone.
In January, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York secured the guilty plea of Wegelin Bank, the oldest private bank in Switzerland, and the first foreign bank to plead guilty to felony tax charges. Appearing on behalf of the bank, managing partner Otto Bruderer admitted that the bank had conspired to defraud the United States by helping U.S. account holders hide assets from the IRS in undeclared accounts. In the same month, the federal district court in New York entered an order authorizing the IRS to issue a “John Doe” summons seeking records of Wegelin’s United States correspondent account at UBS, which will allow the United States to determine the identity of U.S. taxpayers who may hold accounts at Wegelin and other banks based in Switzerland to evade federal income taxes. In the past year, the Division has charged 8 banking professionals and 11 account holders in connection with investigations into offshore banks located in India, Israel, and Switzerland.
Some highlights from the division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices includes:
· March 2013 - Zvi Sperling, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with loans secured by funds in undeclared bank accounts in Israel. As part of the plea, Sperling admitted to failing to report over $380,000 in income and agreed to pay a civil penalty of 50 percent on his share of the high balance in the Israeli accounts, which at one point was $4 million.
· January 2013 - Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach, Fla., pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return for 2006 and 2007 and admitted that she had maintained an undeclared account at UBS. The plea agreement included a penalty of over $21.6 million for failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs).
· August 2012 - Arvind Ahuja, a Wisconsin neurosurgeon who maintained an undeclared account at HSBC India, was convicted following a jury trial of filing a false 2009 income tax return and failing to file an FBAR.
Combating Identity Theft
The Tax Division, in conjunction with the IRS and U.S. Attorneys nationwide, has made a high priority the investigation and prosecution of individuals who engage in stolen identity refund fraud (SIRF). The division is targeting individuals involved in all stages of these schemes, including those who illegally obtain the Social Security numbers and other personal identifying information, those who file the false returns with the IRS, those who knowingly facilitate cashing the checks or otherwise obtaining the refunds, and those who mastermind or promote these scams.
Some highlights of the Tax Division’s success prosecuting perpetrators of identity theft over the past year include:
· March 2013 - Mary Bennett of Elmore County, Ala., was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as aggravated identity theft. Her two co-conspirators were sentenced to 24 and 18 months in prison.
· February 2013 - Antoinette Djonret of Montgomery, Ala., was sentenced to 144 months in prison and ordered to pay almost $1.3 million in restitution. Djonret and her co-conspirators filed over 1,000 false tax returns, establishing an elaborate network for laundering the refund money, and recruiting a number of individuals to purchase prepaid debit cards for use in the scheme.
· January 2013 - Masood Chotani, a CPA and tax return preparer from Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States for his role in a scheme in which he misappropriated employer identification numbers from his client files and provided information to co-conspirators who then filed over 250 fraudulent returns claiming more than $2 million in refunds. The refunds were deposited in foreign bank accounts. His co-conspirators are currently serving 30- and 37-month prison terms.
· November 2012 - Andrew J. Watts, a Barbados national, was sentenced in Chicago to 114 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of just under $1.7 million for devising and executing a SIRF scheme in which he filed over 470 false federal income tax returns, claiming fraudulent refunds in excess of $120 million.
· May 2012 - Veronica Dale was sentenced to 27 years and 10 months in prison, and her co-conspirator, Alchico Grant, was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months in prison, for their roles as the leaders of a Montgomery, Ala., SIRF ring. They were also ordered to pay over $2.8 million in restitution to the IRS. Using the stolen identities of Medicare beneficiaries, Dale and Grant filed over 500 fraudulent refund claims, and then recruited others to set up a bank account in the name of a business into which more than $1.5 million in fraudulently obtained refunds were deposited.
Return Preparer Fraud
Corrupt accountants and fraudulent tax return preparers present a serious law enforcement concern. Some accountants and return preparers dupe unwitting clients into filing fraudulent returns, while others serve as willing “enablers,” providing a veneer of legitimacy for clients predisposed to cheat. The division’s civil injunction program, now more than 10 years old, continues to be an effective way to quickly shut down fraudulent return preparers and illegal tax-scheme promoters – especially during filing season – thereby reducing the harm to the public while potential criminal investigations are ongoing. In March, the Tax Division announced recent successes in its civil injunction program including more than 30 injunctions entered against both large-scale tax return preparation franchises and smaller, independent return preparers and promoters across the country in recent months.
Hiding income offshore, identity theft, and return preparer fraud are all part of the IRS’s “ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams.” More information about the Tax Division’s civil and criminal enforcement efforts in these and other areas is available on the Justice Department website. For more on the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams, see the IRS website and the IRS YouTube Channel.