Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Copying Steven Martinez’s Idea Is Not a Good Choice

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

I’m on the road this weekend, but a story from the San Francisco Bay Area caught my eye. Charles Waldo was already in jail. He was arrested on a 50-count indictment for insurance fraud, tax evasion, felony vandalism, and a high speed chase through central Costa Contra County. While awaiting trial, Mr. Waldo was in the Martinez, California jail.

When you’re in prison you do have time on your hands to determine your defense. There’s plenty of time to research the law on the charges you’re facing, work on strategy with your defense counsel, and perhaps other means of helping your case. Mr. Waldo allegedly decided to follow the idea of Steven Martinez. Mr. Martinez, for those who don’t remember, won the coveted 2012 Tax Offender of the Year award for hiring a hit man to eliminate the witnesses against him. Yes, Mr. Waldo supposedly did the same thing.

Mr. Waldo was indicted on Friday on nine counts of solicitation to commit murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. According to the press release from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office,

The indictment alleges that while serving time in custody at the Martinez Detention Facility, the defendant solicited and conspired with other inmates to arrange the killing of nine different witnesses that were set to testify against him at an upcoming trial. These ten new charges will be added to the fifty charges the defendant currently faces.

There is one bright spot for Mr. Waldo if he is found guilty and spends a very lengthy term at a California penal institution: He’s a shoe-in to be nominated for Tax Offender of the Year in a future year.

California Mandates E-Filing of Business Returns

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The California legislature passed a law mandating e-filing of most business returns beginning with 2014 returns filed in 2015. This legislation was signed into law. Exemptions are available but must be requested from the Franchise Tax Board. Although not mentioned in the law, presumably a return that fails in e-filing (is rejected by the FTB) would also be allowed to be paper filed.

The exemptions that are available are for technology issues and other items that constitute “reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” A penalty of $100 for an initial failure is in the law, with repeated violations being charged $500. The requirement applies to C-Corporations, S-Corporations, partnerships, LLCs, and exempt organizations.

There is one major issue with the law that I see: Most tax software today does not allow for electronic filing of a single-member LLC return (a disregarded entity). While there is no federal return for such an entity, California does require the return to be filed (and an $800 annual fee be paid). California also does not have its own online system to e-file business returns. My software currently does not have the ability to e-file a California single-member LLC return. I’ll be asking my software provider about this…but not until after October 15th.

Hyatt Decision a Win for FTB as Far as Damages, but Decision Upheld that FTB Committed Fraud

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Nevada Supreme Court released its decision today in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt. The decision is definitely a win for the FTB as far as damages; however, the Court upheld that the FTB committed fraud against Mr. Hyatt and the damage award for fraud. Overall, some portions of the District Court decision were reversed, other portions were upheld, and still other portions were remanded for more proceedings.

First, for those who want to read more than the summary I’m going to present, I strongly recommend reading the opinion. It’s quite readable though long (it runs 68 pages). That it runs this long for a unanimous decision just goes to show how lengthy this litigation has been.

As for the decision:
1. The Court upheld that the FTB is not immune to lawsuits for intentional torts and bad-faith conduct. Thus, Mr. Hyatt’s lawsuit has basis in law.

2. Most of Mr. Hyatt’s claims fail, though, as a matter of law. There are two exceptions: fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). Those claims are valid as far as law per the Nevada Supreme Court.

3. The Court upheld the jury’s finding that the FTB made false representation to Mr. Hyatt, and upholds the award of $1,085,281.56 of damages.

4. The Court upheld the jury’s finding that the FTB committed IIED. However, the damages were not upheld. This has been remanded back to the District Court for a new trial on the amount of damages committed against Mr. Hyatt.

5. The Court ruled that “Because punitive damages would not be available against a Nevada government entity, we hold, under comity principles, that FTB is immune from punitive damages.” This is a huge win for the FTB, as $250 million of punitive damages were awarded at trial.

6. The FTB should look at this result and realize the egg on their face…but probably won’t.


1. The Court gives an excellent history of the case, and its winding road to the US Supreme Court and back to the District Court for trial. There are still more trials to come besides the remand proceedings. Mr. Hyatt’s appeal of the FTB’s rulings against him has still not been heard in California. Additionally, Mr. Hyatt sued the FTB in federal district court in Sacramento alleging that the FTB has deprived him of his constitutional rights.

The FTB first again challenged whether or not Mr. Hyatt could sue the FTB. There is a legal principle called “comity.” Generally, under comity, “…[A] forum state may give effect to the laws and judicial decisions of another state based in part on deference and respect for the other state, but only so long as the other state’s laws are not contrary to the policies of the forum state.” The FTB loses here:

Because we conclude that discretionary-function immunity under NRS 41.032 does not include intentional torts and bad-faith conduct, a Nevada government agency would not receIve immunity under these circumstances, and thus, we do not extend such immunity to FTB under comity principles, as to do so would be contrary to the policy of this state.

2. The Court then looked at the torts that Mr. Hyatt alleged the FTB committed. “Hyatt brought three invasion of privacy causes of action-intrusion upon seclusion, publicity of private facts, and false light-and additional causes of action for breach of confidential relationship, abuse of process, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Mr. Hyatt loses the intrusion upon seclusion and publicity of private facts because the facts that the FTB released (his personal confidential information including his social security number) were in the public domain previously.

The FTB next challenges whether there is a “false light” tort. The Nevada Supreme Court says that there is such a tort. The FTB also appeals arguing that Mr. Hyatt did not present any evidence that anyone thought he was a ‘tax cheat’ based on the litigation list published by the FTB or the FTB’s third-party contacts.

The record before us reveals that no evidence presented by Hyatt in the underlying suit supported the jury’s conclusion that FTB portrayed Hyatt in a false light. Because Hyatt has failed to establish a false light claim, we reverse the district court’s judgment on this claim. [citation omitted]

The FTB argues that there cannot be a breach of a confidential relationship because there was no such relationship. The Court looked at what causes a confidential relationship as far as a tort.

But in conducting the audits, FTB was not required to act with Hyatt’s interests in mind; rather, it had a duty to proceed on behalf of the state of California’s interest. Moreover, the parties’ relationship was not akin to a family or business relationship. Hyatt argues for a broad range of relationships that can meet the requirement under Perry, but we reject this contention. Perry does not provide for so expansive a relationship as Hyatt asks us to recognize as sufficient to establish a claim for a breach of confidential relationship. Thus, FTB and Hyatt’s relationship cannot form the basis for a breach of a confidential relationship cause of action, and this cause of action fails as a matter of law. The district court judgment in Hyatt’s favor on this claim is reversed. [citations and footnotes omitted]

The FTB then challenges the abuse of process tort. The FTB asserted that there can’t be abuse of process as the FTB did not use the judicial process. The Court agreed:

Because FTB did not use any legal enforcement process, such as filing a court action, in relation to its demands for information or otherwise during the audits, Hyatt cannot meet the requirements for establishing an abuse of process claim.

3. The next tort was fraud. “To prove a fraud claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant made a false representation that the defendant knew or believed was false, that the defendant intended to persuade the plaintiff to act or not act based on the representation, and that the plaintiff had reason to rely on the representation and suffered damages.”

The FTB argued that its statements to Mr. Hyatt that it would provide him with “courteous treatment” and keep his information confidential weren’t sufficient basis for a fraud claim, and even if that was sufficient there wasn’t any evidence that such representations were false when made. On the other hand, Mr. Hyatt claims that the FTB misrepresented their promises.

Here, the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Hyatt.

The record before us shows that a reasonable mind could conclude that FTB made specific representations to Hyatt that it intended for Hyatt to rely on, but which it did not intend to fully meet. FTB represented to Hyatt that it would protect his confidential information and treat him courteously. At trial, Hyatt presented evidence that FTB disclosed his social security number and home address to numerous people and entities and that FTB revealed to third parties that Hyatt was being audited.

There’s more here, and I’ll get to this in my views (below, in #6).

The FTB then argued that there should be a limit on the damages based on fraud (based on the FTB being immune from fraud in California and there being certain limits in Nevada), while Mr. Hyatt argues that the FTB isn’t entitled to any caps on damages. The Court agreed with Mr. Hyatt:

This state’s policy interest in providing adequate redress to Nevada citizens is paramount to providing FTB a statutory cap on damages under comity. Therefore, as we conclude that allowing FTB a statutory cap would violate this state’s public policy in this area, comity does not require this court to grant FTB such relief. As this is the only argument FTB raised in regard to the special damages awarded under the fraud cause of action, we affirm the amount of damages awarded for fraud. [citation omitted]

4. The court then looked at intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The FTB argued that because Mr. Hyatt didn’t provide any medical evidence, he can’t claim IIED. Mr. Hyatt disagreed, and that given that he was severely harmed that the proof level can be less than medical records. The Court agreed with Mr. Hyatt, and that this case was on the more extreme end of the scale:

As explained above in discussing the fraud claim, FTB disclosed personal information that it promised to keep confidential and delayed resolution of Hyatt’s protests for 11 years, resulting in a daily interest charge of $8,000. Further, Hyatt presented testimony that the auditor who conducted the majority of his two audits made disparaging remarks about Hyatt and his religion, was determined to impose tax assessments against him, and that FTB fostered an environment in which the imposition of tax assessments was the objective whenever an audit was undertaken…

In support of his lIED claim, Hyatt presented testimony from three different people as to the how the treatment from FTB caused Hyatt emotional distress and physically affected him. This included testimony of how Hyatt’s mood changed dramatically, that he became distant and much less involved in various activities, started drinking heavily, suffered severe migraines and had stomach problems, and became obsessed with the legal issues involving FTB. We conclude that this evidence, in connection with the severe treatment experienced by Hyatt, provided sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably determine that Hyatt suffered severe emotional distress.

However, the damage award for this claim was not upheld, and the Court remanded the case back to the District Court for a new trial on the damages. The Court concluded that there was evidentiary and jury instruction errors.

5. The FTB appealed whether punitive damages are allowed. “FTB argues that it is entitled to immunity from punitive damages based on comity because, like Nevada, California law has expressly waived such damages against its government entities. California law provides full immunity from punitive damages for its government agencies.” The Court finds that comity warrants that the FTB be immune from punitive damages:

The broad allowance for punitive damages under NRS 42.005 does not authorize punitive damages against a government entity. Further, under comity principles, we afford FTB the protections of California immunity to the same degree as we would provide immunity to a Nevada government entity as outlined in NRS 41.035(1). Thus, Hyatt’s argument that Nevada law provides for the award of punitive damages against FTB is unpersuasive. Because punitive damages would not be available against a Nevada government entity, we hold that under comity principles FTB is immune from punitive damages. We therefore reverse the portion of the district court’s judgment awarding punitive damages against FTB.


6. My thoughts: If I as a tax professional were to conduct myself in the manner that the FTB did, I would almost certainly be liable for truckloads of damages and would lose my license. Consider that the Nevada Supreme Court called the conduct of the FTB “extreme.” Consider also that at trial the FTB called its conduct typical:

Tax agents rummaged through his trash without warrants, visited business partners and doctors, and shared his Social Security Number and other personal information with the media. This is outrageous behavior and I call on the FTB to rein in their agents. What really galled me is the FTB testified in open court that this level of harassment was only a typical audit. If true, then the stormtroopers are alive and well at the FTB.

The author of the above quote, Bill Leonard, knows what he’s talking about. He’s a former member of the California Board of Equalization, the California tax agency which hears appeals from the FTB. There really isn’t much to add to that description. But let me include the entire text of what the Nevada Supreme Court wrote in affirming that the FTB committed fraud:

The record before us shows that a reasonable mind could conclude that FTB made specific representations to Hyatt that it intended for Hyatt to rely on, but which it did not intend to fully meet. FTB represented to Hyatt that it would protect his confidential information and treat him courteously. At trial, Hyatt presented evidence that FTB disclosed his social security number and home address to numerous people and entities and that FTB revealed to third parties that Hyatt was being audited. In addition, FTB sent letters concerning the 1991 audit to several doctors with the same last name, based on its belief that one of those doctors provided Hyatt treatment, but without first determining which doctor actually treated Hyatt before sending the correspondence. Furthermore, Hyatt showed that FTB took 11 years to resolve Hyatt’s protests of the two audits. Hyatt alleged that this delay resulted in $8,000 in interest per day accruing against him for the outstanding taxes owed to California. Also at trial, Hyatt presented evidence through Candace Les, a former FTB auditor and friend of the main auditor on Hyatt’s audit, Sheila Cox, that Cox had made disparaging comments about Hyatt and his religion, that Cox essentially was intent on imposing an assessment against Hyatt, and that FTB promoted a culture in which tax assessments were the end goal whenever an audit was undertaken. Hyatt also testified that he would not have hired legal and accounting professionals to assist in the audits had he known how he would be treated. Moreover, Hyatt stated that he incurred substantial costs that he would not otherwise have incurred by paying for professional representatives to assist him during the audits.

The only solution to such behavior by tax agencies is the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander rule.” If a tax agency (or its employees) commits fraud against a taxpayer, the tax agency should be held liable. I urge California voters to rescind the blanket liability protection that tax agencies have. The actions of the FTB show it’s not warranted.

For Mr. Hyatt, the case will head back to Las Vegas for another trial (most likely next year) followed by, almost certainly, another appeal.

Hyatt Decision Due Tomorrow (Thursday)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

The long running battle between Gilbert Hyatt and the Franchise Tax Board of California here in Nevada is likely nearing a conclusion. The Nevada Supreme Court listed the Hyatt case in their list of Forthcoming Opinions. Given that the FTB’s liability is up to $500,000,000 (if the lower court decision is upheld), this is a very important decision.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Gilbert Hyatt moved to Nevada from California. He moved in October 1991, but the FTB held that he didn’t move until April 1992, conveniently after Mr. Hyatt received significant income from patents he held. The FTB assessed tax, penalties, interest, and the civil fraud penalty.

In January 1998, Mr. Hyatt filed a lawsuit against the FTB, alleging that the FTB committed torts during the audit, including invasion of privacy, outrageous conduct, abuse of process, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. The FTB challenged that Mr. Hyatt could sue the tax agency; California law immunizes the FTB from lawsuits. That portion of the case went to the US Supreme Court; the US Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that he could sue the tax agency.

The case was heard in 2008 here in Las Vegas. Mr. Hyatt won and was awarded $138.8 million of actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages. (Including interest, the amount that Mr. Hyatt is due is up to $500 million.) The FTB appealed; that appeal was heard in May 2012 by the Nevada Supreme Court. (Nevada does not have intermediate courts of appeal.) That’s the decision that will be released tomorrow. I will report on the decision tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon.

Once Again, Bring Me the Usual Suspects: 2014 Small Business Tax Index

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council recently released their “Small Business Tax Index 2014.” You may remember that last October I wrote about their “Small Business Policy Index 2013.” Congratulations are in order for my home state, the Silver State, for leading the way. Here are the top ten states:

1. Nevada (9.677)
2. South Dakota
3. Texas
4. Wyoming
5. Washington
6. Florida
7. Alabama
8. Ohio
9. Colorado
10. Alaska

Bringing up the rear are these ten states:

41. Connecticut
42. Oregon
43. Vermont
44. Maine
45. New York
46. Iowa
47. Hawaii
48. New Jersey
49. Minnesota
50. California (82.695)

The numbers in parentheses are the total score for all factors. Why is California so far behind Nevada?
- Nevada has no personal income tax; California has the highest personal income tax in the country.

A high personal income tax rate raises the costs of working, saving, investing, and risk taking. Personal income tax rates vary among states, therefore affecting crucial economic decisions and activities. In fact, the personal income tax influences business far more than generally assumed because more than 92 percent of businesses file taxes as individuals (e.g., sole proprietorship, partnerships and S-Corps.), and therefore pay personal income taxes rather than corporate income taxes.

- Nevada has no capital gains tax; California has the highest capital gains tax rate in the country. “One of the biggest obstacles that start-ups or expanding businesses face is access to capital. State capital gains taxes, therefore, impact the economy by directly affecting the rate of return on investment and entrepreneurship.”

- Nevada doesn’t tax dividends and interest; California has the top rate on these in the country. “Quite simply, higher tax rates on dividends and interest mean reduced resources and incentives for saving and investment, which in turn, works against entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation.”

-Nevada doesn’t have a corporate income tax; California does (they rank 41st in this category). The same rankings apply for corporate capital gains taxes.

- California gets a negative for imposing a corporate level tax on S-Corporation, an individual AMT, a corporate AMT, and for having a progressive income tax (Nevada has none of these). California does index tax brackets, so it doesn’t lose a point here.

- On property tax, Nevada ranks 21st and California ranks 28th (they are fairly similar).

- In one category, California ranks significantly above Nevada: sales and gross receipts/excise taxes. California ranks 26th and Nevada ranks 48th.

- California ranks first in one category: unemployment taxes while Nevada is just behind in 6th.

In any case, California ends up at the bottom. Given its ranking at the bottom of the policy index, that’s a daily double that should drive California’s political leaders to make changes…but won’t.

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Toyota Living Up to Their Slogan: They’re Going Places (to Texas from California)

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Toyota’s current slogan is “Let’s go places.” And they are–Toyota is leaving the Bronze Golden State and moving to the Lone Star State. While Toyota isn’t saying anything about why they might move roughly 5,000 employees from Torrance to Dallas, it doesn’t take a genius to know that taxes and regulations are two prime factors.

“The costs of doing business in Southern California are much higher than the costs of doing business in Tennessee,” Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said at the time [Nissan announced they were moving their headquarters to Tennessee from Gardena, California]. He cited cheaper real estate and lower business taxes as key reasons for the move.

Fritz Hitchcock, who owns several Toyota dealerships in Southern California, said Toyota’s decision won’t affect local car sales. But he said it represents an “indictment of California’s business climate.”

California ranks at the bottom of almost every comparison of state business climates and taxes. Texas ranks near the top in both categories. Yet I read that the California legislature is considering even more anti-business legislation. (The link goes to an article on a proposal to tie California corporation tax to the differential in pay between a CEO and the average employee.)

When I moved my business from California to Nevada, taxes and regulations were prime reasons. It’s far easier to uproot a one-person business than it is the marketing arm of Toyota. That said, California is giving business owners plenty of reasons to check out neighboring states. The desert sands of Nevada don’t make the world’s best meteorological climate, but the business climate here is day-and-night better in comparison to California.

Gilbert Hyatt Sues FTB & BOE Over 20+ Year Wait

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

There are delays and there are delays. Gilbert Hyatt has been waiting two years to find out how the Nevada Supreme Court would rule on the (California) Franchise Tax Board’s appeal of his $500 million award. A decision in that case could come at any time (well, on any Thursday since that’s the day of the week that the Nevada Supreme Court releases decisions). But that two year delay is nothing compared to the delay in the original matter.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Hyatt, he invented items related to microprocessors and semiconductors. (I’m sure my brother could give a much better description of this.) Back in 1991 (yes, this case goes that far back) he moved to Las Vegas; he knew he was soon going to get a large payment and Nevada’s state income tax rate–or better put, the lack thereof–appealed to him. The Franchise Tax Board (California’s income tax agency) said he didn’t move until sometime in 2012, conveniently after he received that payment. The FTB assessed tax and penalties. Mr. Hyatt appealed those.

Mr. Hyatt also argued that he had been subject to torts in Nevada and filed a lawsuit here in Las Vegas against the FTB in 1998. He alleged that the FTB had, among other things, rummaged through his garbage, visited business partners and doctors, and shared his social security number with the media. Bill Leonard (a former member of California’s Board of Equalization) said,

This is outrageous behavior and I call on the FTB to rein in their agents. What really galled me is the FTB testified in open court that this level of harassment was only a typical audit. If true, then the stormtroopers are alive and well at the FTB.

Mr. Hyatt’s case went up to the US Supreme Court. In 2003, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that his case could go forward. In 2008, the trial was held and the FTB lost. That’s the appeal that the Nevada Supreme Court heard in 2012.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hyatt’s audit was decided against him in 1996. If you lose at the FTB, you can appeal a case to the Board of Equalization (BOE). That’s what Mr. Hyatt did. In 2008, Mr. Hyatt thought his BOE appeal would be heard within two years. It still hasn’t been heard. So he filed another lawsuit.

He has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento accusing the FTB and BOE of depriving him of his constitutional rights. As noted in Dan Walters’ column,

“Without this court’s grant of relief that Hyatt seeks,” his suit says, “the FTB’s 20-plus-year vendetta to ‘get’ Hyatt will continue indefinitely and unabated in violation of Hyatt’s equal protection rights.”

It’s been nearly 23 years since Mr. Hyatt did (or didn’t) move out of California. It’s been 18 years since the FTB rules on his appeal and the case has been in the hands of the BOE. Yes, I’m sure California’s tax agencies have been moving with all possible speed….

Mr. Hyatt is 76. My suspicion is that the litigation between him and California’s tax agencies will last beyond his lifetime.

Bozo Tax Tip #7: Ignoring California

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Yesterday I looked at the idea of forming a Nevada Corporation while in California and being able to avoid California taxes. It doesn’t work. Today’s focus is on something that comes up now and then and applies to trusts.

Let’s assume John and Jane, two California residents, form a trust to benefit their children, Ann and Bob. Ann lives in Florida; Bob resides in California. The trust is an irrevocable trust, so it files its own tax return (a Form 1041). The income to the beneficiaries is reported on Schedule K-1s. Ann is surprised and calls her accountant when she receives both a federal K-1 and a California K-1.

The issue is simple: The trust is a California trust, so the income is California-source. California requires that a Schedule K-1 for Form 541 (California’s trust tax return) be included. Yes, Ann must pay California tax on the income. Ann’s CPA called me and asked me why I included the K-1 from California. My response was succinct: I have to and Ann has to pay the tax.

California’s desire to have anyone and everyone pay California tax has led to many trusts relocating to Nevada (which has no state income tax) and other trust-friendly states. California isn’t one of those states. Ann’s parents, John and Jane, could have formed the trust in Nevada but because they didn’t Ann is stuck in the Hotel California. You can check out any time but you can never leave.

Ignoring the California K-1 is a Bozo idea. Instead of just paying tax, you will get the joy of paying tax, penalties, and interest. If your parents are in California and thinking of forming a trust to benefit you, it may be worth your time to talk about Nevada to them. Otherwise, welcome to the Hotel California.

Bozo Tax Tip #8: Nevada Corporations

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

A repeat follows, but it’s one again getting a lot of play due to business conditions in California. While I’m focusing on California and Nevada, the principle applies to any pair of states.

Nevada is doing everything it can to draw businesses from California. Frankly, California is doing a lot to draw businesses away from the Bronze Golden State. But just like last year you need to beware if you’re going to incorporate in Nevada.

If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.

Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada incorporating in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada corporation is, well, bozo.

An Update on the BOE’s Fixer-Upper

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

When I last wrote about the home of California’s Board of Equalization–one of two tax collecting agencies in California–I called it a fixer-upper. That might have been kind.

It does have a good location (right in downtown Sacramento). It is 24-stories tall. Of course, there are a few problems. Like the windows that pop out randomly and take the wings of gravity down to the ground. There’s the mold that’s been found in many areas of the building…toxic mold. If you ever have to go above the ground floor you might want to use the stairs: The elevator doors periodically don’t open.

The most recent issues relate to water pipe issues. It seems that the waste lines tend to leak. Now it’s been determined that the entire drain system wasn’t built to code. Oops….

The California state auditor is now going to conduct a five-month long study about what to do with the BOE headquarters. Hopefully the auditor will be able to find some solutions before any more problems pop up.