The 2020 Tax Offender of the Year

Many are called; few are chosen. It’s time once again for that most prestigious of prestigious year-end awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. It takes more than cheating on your taxes; you need to really cheat or do a series of Bozo-like actions. Every year I hope that there are no worthy candidates; as usual, there are plenty.

The United States Congress get a nomination. “The compromise deal that passed for Covid relief could have been done a lot sooner,” the nominator wrote. And she’s absolutely right. But this reminds me of a joke I remember from Get Smart! When asked how long it would take for an appropriation bill for Control to pass, the answer is two months; when asked how long it would take for an emergency appropriation bill to pass, the answer is three months.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) received a nomination. Consider if you sold items through, and you had two sales to California residents in 2014-2016. The CDTFA is coming after you for back sales taxes, penalties, and interest because your products were possibly warehoused in an Amazon warehouse in California. There are many court cases on this, and even the Los Angeles Times–usually a proponent of additional taxes in California–thinks that the CDTFA is nuts. But Congress and the CDTFA didn’t even make the top three.

Finishing in third place was Winfred Fields. Mr. Fields is enjoying a 109-month stay at ClubFed for a brazen tax fraud scheme. Mr. Fields specialized in preparing returns for workers in oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. They were paid by US companies, and Mr. Fields filed returns noting that per tax treaties with the United Kingdom, Spain, or New Zealand these workers’ pay was exempt from US taxation. They weren’t, but the IRS processed the returns. He also required the tax refunds to be deposited in his bank account (a violation of Circular 230, the regulations that tax professionals fall under), so he could take his fee off the top. He received $3,097,974 of illicit refunds and kept $1,302,271 for himself.

Coming in second place are Stein Agee & Corey Agee of the Atlanta area. The Agees developed syndicated conservation easements (SCE), and sold those to high-income individuals. For every dollar you contributed to one of their partnerships, you got a $4 tax deduction. If someone came to me with this as a possible investment, I would immediately think there’s a problem. A fundamental rule of taxation is you can only deduct what you pay for, and it’s hard for me to envision how you can get a (say) $40,000 deduction for investing $10,000. But I digress…

We’re not talking about a small tax fraud here. Per the Department of Justice press release, more than $1.2 billion of fraudulent deductions were taken; the Agees received more than $1.7 million in commissions. Stein and Corey Agee both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; they’re looking at up to five years at ClubFed plus probable monetary penalties.

And, yes, $1.2 billion of fraud is only second place.

In 1970, a company called Universal Computer Systems (UCS) was formed. It began as a regional data processing service bureau, and expanded in the 1980s, mainly providing computer services to automobile dealers. The company was successful, and expanded to have offices not only in the United States but in several other countries.

In 2006, UCS merged with Reynolds and Reynolds, another automobile dealer computer service company. The merger was valued at about $2.8 billion. Robert Brockman, who was CEO of UCS became CEO of the combined company (which took the Reynolds and Reynolds name). Their current products include dealer management systems for inventory, accounting, contracts, and logistics. It remains a successful business.

Mr. Brockman allegedly began having foreign entities to help shelter his wealth. There is nothing wrong with this, provided you appropriately disclose the entities and pay your US taxes based on the Internal Revenue Code. You likely can figure out where this is headed….

Mr. Brockman’s entities, which included trusts and companies in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Nevis (part of Saint Kitts and Nevis, two islands in the Caribbean). There are bank accounts in these countries and in Switzerland and somehow not all of these accounts allegedly made it onto Mr. Brockman’s annual Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (the FBAR).

Mr. Brockman also allegedly filed false tax returns from 2012 – 2018, ignoring capital gains that were made in various transactions (detailed in the indictment). There are also counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. From the Department of Justice press release:

According to the indictment, Brockman, a resident of Houston, Texas, and Pitkin County, Colorado, used a web of offshore entities based in Bermuda and Nevis to hide from the IRS income earned on his investments in private equity funds which were managed by a San Francisco-based investment firm. As part of the alleged scheme, Brockman directed untaxed capital gains income to secret bank accounts in Bermuda and Switzerland. The indictment further alleges that to execute the fraud, between 1999 and 2019, Brockman took measures such as backdating records and using encrypted communications and code words to communicate with a co-conspirator, among other alleged actions.

In addition to the tax offenses, the indictment alleges that, between 2008 and 2010, Brockman engaged in a fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $67.8 million in the software company’s debt securities. As CEO, Brockman was contractually restricted from purchasing any of the software company’s debt securities without prior notice, full disclosure, and amending the associated credit agreements. The indictment alleges that Brockman used a third-party to circumvent those requirements, to acquire the debt securities, and to conceal from the sellers valuable economic information. The indictment further alleges that Brockman used material, non-public information about the software company to make decisions about purchasing the debt. In addition, Brockman allegedly persuaded another individual to alter, destroy, and mutilate documents and computer evidence with the intent to impair the use of such evidence in a grand jury investigation.

Mr. Brockman has pleaded not guilty, and it should be remembered that these charges are just allegations.

It is clear from the indictment that at least one (probably two) individuals within Reynolds and Reynolds have cooperated with the Department of Justice. Additionally, Robert Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners in San Francisco, admitted his part of the scheme and will be paying $139 million to the United States and will avoid prosecution.

The total alleged fraud is $2 billion.

There are numerous other interesting items within the indictment; here are just a few:

On or about June 3, 2007, BROCKMAN, using his encrypted email system, directed Individual One to purchase a computer program called “Evidence Eliminator” for Individual One’s computers…

On or about October 20, 2011, BROCKMAN, using his encrypted email system, directed Individual One to attend a money laundering conference “if possible under an assumed identity.”…

On or about December 9, 2012, BROCKMAN, using his encrypted email system, directed Individual One to change the scture in which the shares of Point were held, moving them to a “purpose trust” with a “dressed up charitable purpose” to avoid inquiries from banks and “the house” about the ultimate beneficial owners of Point.

Again, an indictment does not mean Mr. Brockman is guilty of the alleged offenses. However, the indictment shows a picture of deliberate disregard of US taxes. Mr. Brockman is facing many, many years and large financial penalties if found guilty of the 39 counts for which he faces trial.

And that’s a wrap on 2020, a dismal year that I hope we don’t have to experience ever again. May all of you have a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.