2015 Tax Offender of the Year

Once more it’s time to award that prestigious award, the 2015 Tax Offender of the Year. The winner of this award must do more than just cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Unfortunately, there were plenty of nominations.

Dissatisfied with only winning the Tax Offender of the Year award once, the US Congress made a strong push for the award. However, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (which is a good thing; this award really isn’t something to brag about). Just two weeks ago they passed both a budget and tax “extender” legislation, and even codified the Enrolled Agent profession as part of the legislation. That last item eliminated Congress from the running.

The Miccosukee tribe was in the running again. They’ve fought a quixotic battle against the IRS, alleging that their members are exempt from US taxation on their income from a casino. The tribe has been fighting the IRS in court (and losing, time after time). Most recently, the Tax Court ruled that an IRS levy wasn’t an abuse of discretion.

However, that’s not the most recent ruling against the tribe. Just last week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the tribe. The tribe had appealed a dismissal of a lawsuit against former tribal officials, attorneys, a law firm, and an investment firm:

Applying the Rule 9(b) standard to the present complaint, we note that the district court previously afforded the Tribe the opportunity to amend its complaint to add particularity. In doing so, the Tribe submitted a 314-page second amended complaint which, at first blush, appears to contain particularity…The complaint’s 314 pages, therefore, appear largely to be an attempt to create the impression of specificity through page-number “shock and awe.”

Let’s just say that the Court was neither shocked nor awed:

The deficiency of the pleadings exists at a more fundamental level. Looking first at the allegations concerning the attorney defendants, the complaint suffers from a wholesale lack of detail to satisfy the plausibility standard of Iqbal and Twombly or the heightened requirements of Rule 9(b)…No attempt is made, however, to articulate what services were deemed legitimate and proper, what services comprised part of the alleged fraudulent scheme, and what rates were inflated…There is, therefore, insufficient specificity to distinguish between what attorney matters the Tribe deems to have been legitimate and what the Tribe deems to have been illegitimate. Finally, the Tribe alleges a kickback scheme in which the attorneys received payment and refunded money to Cypress, but there are no factual references to support these allegations. [foonote omitted]

The decision of the lower court was affirmed. And, yes, there’s worse to come.

Our final runner up was IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. While I applaud the lead he appears to now be taking on identity theft, Commissioner Koskinen’s reaction to the IRS scandal has been ridiculous. I agree with Joe Kristan’s comment earlier this year:

His glib, arrogant and obstructionist response to the Tea Party scandal, full of denials of the existence of information that subsequently surfaced, has destroyed his credibility. There’s no hope that the IRS will get improved funding as long as he is around to spend it.

Yet Mr. Koskinen’s bad leadership pales to the amazing tale I’m about to tell.

Stillwater, Minnesota is like many small cities in the midwest. It’s a popular day trip for residents of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), and it’s largest industry appears to be tourism.

In 2006, Kenneth Harycki owned Customized Payroll Solutions in Stillwater and was its mayor. He was a CPA and had a nice business. He took on new clients in 2007, Thurlee and Roylee Belfrey (brothers) who ran some home health care businesses. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Harycki, the Belfreys allegedly ran their business as their own personal piggy bank. That supposedly including defrauding the US Department of Health and Human Services and skimming off payroll tax deposits. Mr. Harycki discovered this after he took the Belfreys on as clients:

Within the first few payroll cycles for Model Health Care, Harycki “concluded that while payroll taxes were being withheld from the wages of employees, those taxes were not being paid over to the government,” according to his guilty plea.

Now, when I discover a defalcation against a client I will, of course, report it to them. If I discover a client is committing payroll tax fraud (thankfully, I’ve never had this happen), I’m required to tell them to stop, and to drop them as a client. Mr. Harycki, a CPA, certainly understood the ethical requirements of his profession.

Well, maybe not.

Mr. Harycki had other ideas of what to do. Back in January when I first reported on this, I gave the three choices that could have been considered:

(a) Tell them that the taxes aren’t being paid, that’s violating the law, and you need to fix this (which could include setting up payment plans with the IRS and Minnesota, or just paying the withheld funds);
(b) Tell them that if they don’t start remitting the withheld funds that he would need to quit the engagement; or
(c) Join the conspiracy.

Yes, Mr. Harycki decided to join the conspiracy. And boy did he do so!

According to the defendant’s guilty plea, on February 18, 2010, HARYCKI created the entity MKH Holdings, Inc., to assume control over bank accounts used to fund businesses operated by the co-conspirators. The entity was used to cause funds falsely reported on income tax returns to be paid to the co-conspirators and others. During the course of the conspiracy, HARYCKI also incorporated other businesses, obtained employer identification numbers, paid for personal expenses, filed false tax returns, and opened and used numerous bank accounts for the benefit of the separately charged co-conspirators in order to avoid payment of taxes.

There’s not much to add here. Mr. Harycki should have, once he discovered the fraud, told them of the law violations and quit the engagement. The only good that is coming from this is that Mr. Harycki appears to be cooperating with the Department of Justice in the cases against the Belfreys (who are now also facing a tax fraud charge).

That’s a wrap on 2015! While I’m hopeful that 2016 will find me bereft of candidates for the Tax Offender of the Year award, I suspect my cup will again run over.

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.


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