Archive for the ‘Scams’ Category

A Pseudo New Nominee for Tax Offender of the Year

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Well, he probably can’t win my coveted award of Tax Offender of the Year as the alleged crimes have nothing to do with tax. However, the alleged perpetrator is a tax attorney, so there is at least some relation to tax. Robert Howell of Cary, North Carolina is accused of attempted murder, kidnapping, and first degree burglary in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Mr. Howell is alleged to have followed his ex-girlfriend to South Carolina where he is alleged to have committed the crimes. He’s also accused of assaulting and threatening her the day before this incident in her home in Cary, North Carolina.

While the charges are pending he’s been suspended from the North Carolina Bar.

Meanwhile, Mr. Howell is locked in a custody battle with his estranged wife. And Cary police plan on serving Mr. Howell with additional charges.

Hat Tip: Tax Professor Blog

Criminal Charges Dropped Against Roni Deutch

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Back in 2009, the law firm of Roni Deutch was a huge deal. She was the “Tax Lady,” and her face and advertisements were plastered all over television. Then she was sued by the state of California. And then came the criminal indictments–perhaps the largest criminal indictment in California history.

Fast forward five years, and it’s all over. California has dropped the criminal indictments, and instead of paying $34 million she’ll be paying $2.5 million in the civil suit (per her lawyer). She will also pay $10,000 in fines and must perform 350 hours of community service. Ms. Deutch, who dropped her law license, can even reapply for that.

The Scamsters Haven’t Stopped

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

One of my clients called me first thing this morning (we’ll call him Joe from Richmond, Virginia; all names and cities have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty). Joe said he got a phone call from David. David identified himself as working for the IRS in Seattle. David accused Joe of not paying his taxes from 2008 – 2011; that Joe had not responded to a threat of a lawsuit that was mailed to him in December 2013; that unless Joe acted that lawsuit would be filed by the IRS. David told Joe Joe’s address and the first five digits of Joe’s social security number to “verify” his story.

Joe hung up the phone on David.

The phone call Joe received was almost certainly a variation of this scam:

TIGTA Warns of “Largest Ever” Phone Fraud Scam Targeting Taxpayers

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) today issued a warning to taxpayers to beware of phone calls from individuals claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in an effort to defraud them.

“This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. George noted that TIGTA has received reports of over 20,000 contacts and has become aware of thousands of victims who have collectively paid over $1 million as a result of the scam, in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials.

“The increasing number of people receiving these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming,” he said. “At all times, and particularly during the tax filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals,” George said, adding, “Do not become a victim.”

Inspector General George urged taxpayers to heed warnings about the sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, noting that the scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every State in the country. Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license.

The truth is the IRS usually first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.

“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” he said.

The callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
  • Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do:

  • If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
  • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.

TIGTA and the IRS encourage taxpayers to be alert for phone and e-mail scams that use the IRS name. The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, texting or any social media. You should forward scam e-mails to Don’t open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

Given that Joe has paid his taxes without fail every year, that the IRS would send multiple notices about unpaid taxes, and the fact that the IRS doesn’t file lawsuits (the US Department of Justice acts as the legal arm for the IRS when the IRS initiates legal action), the chance that David was telling the truth is about the same as it snowing in Las Vegas in August.

Joe did the right things. He reported this to TIGTA (see above on how to do that), and he has saved (for now) the follow-up phone message where David whined at Joe for hanging up the phone on him and that action “wasn’t professional.” Joe also sent in an Identity Theft Affidavit to the IRS because it appears others do have his confidential personal information. (He’ll also be adding fraud alerts to his credit reports.)

Almost always, the IRS initiates contact through the US mail. If you owe significant money, IRS Collections will sometimes knock on your door and leave a business card. If you file an appeal with the IRS, that conversation may come by phone (but you would first get a letter from IRS Appeals).

If you get a phone call like Joe did, it probably is a scam. If you owe taxes, call the IRS back (800-829-1040); they can tell you if your account has been assigned to collections and whom to contact. If you don’t owe the IRS money, call TIGTA.

I’m hopeful that David and his ilk see the inside of ClubFed for a long, long time.

Accountant Who Solicited Hit Man Pleads Guilty

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Back in March I reported on Steven Martinez. Mr. Martinez is a tax preparer who faced charges of stealing $11 million from clients. He decided that the best strategy to fight this charge wasn’t hiring a good attorney, nor was it trying to disprove the charges; rather, he decided to hire a hit man to kill four witnesses. (One reason he didn’t try to disprove the charges is that they were true; Mr. Martinez has admitted he took the $11 million and used it to buy a home in Mexico and other personal expenses.)

The hit man to be told the FBI, and Mr. Martinez was arrested. He pleaded guilty on Friday to soliciting a violent crime, interstate commerce in murder for hire, witness tampering, mail fraud, and eight other felonies. Sentencing is set for November 30th and the 51 year-old Martinez faces 100 years at ClubFed.

Hatch Finds a Job! (But Buyer Beware: Firm Linked to Roni Deutch & Another Accused Attorney)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Congratulations to Richard Hatch, winner of the first Survivor and my favorite tax-challenged celebrity. Courtesy of Kelly Erb we find out that Mr. Hatch now has a job.

Yes, it appears to be another penny on the dollars firm. If some of you actually could read the disclaimer on the advertisement, I congratulate you! My eyesight just isn’t that good.

But this firm is different: They are just a referral service, and by doing a search on them I discovered that they have been advertising for people to buy their leads. I also found that they own with beautiful spokeswoman Tonya.

Unfortunately, MMAC Group may have some issues. When I looked up who owned the domain “” using whosis, I found the reference was to one Gregory Flahive. That name sounded familiar, and when I looked it up in Google I discovered that Mr. Flahive is one of three Sacramento area attorneys accused of taking thousands of dollars upfront from homeowners trying for loan modifications; that would be illegal if proven under California law. He faces 19 felony charges.

Yet another name associated with MMAC is Brandon Funk (see the link to the referral service). Mr. Funk’s name, too, rang a bell; he’s the former Client Intake Director for Roni Deutch’s firm. For those who aren’t aware, Ms. Deutch was accused of taking large up-front payments with promises of reducing individuals’ tax debts but provided little or no help in actually reducing their taxes.

Is this business legal? Probably; they’re not promising anything. Would I use Richard Hatch to help me recommend a good tax professional? Please….

The Dirty Dozen

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

It’s time for the Dirty Dozen. No, not the movie; rather, the IRS’ annual listing of the worst tax scams.

On top of the IRS’ list is identity theft. It is a major problem, and the IRS is trying to stop it. The IRS does have a special unit dealing with identity theft.

Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For more information, visit the special identity theft page at

Second on the IRS list is phishing. The IRS never sends unsolicited emails to taxpayers. As the IRS notes,

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to

You can find the rest of the list here. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Well, She Didn’t Get Charged with Impersonating a CPA…

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Every so often a client asks me to send a mortgage company a letter noting that I prepared their tax returns, and verifying their income for those years. I haven’t been asked to send a letter to a mortgage company where I invent numbers and falsely claim that I prepared someone’s return. (If I were to be so asked, I’d quickly say “no thanks.”) Of course, one always needs to be aware of the Bozo contingent.

From Bakersfield comes the story of Patricia Ann King. She ran The Tax Kings, which did tax preparation work in Bakersfield. From the Department of Justice press release:

King prepared and provided to her co-defendants false and misleading verification letters that purported to verify loan applicants’ self-employment history and income, among other information. King received compensation payments from the co-defendants for providing the verification letters. King knew that the verification letters were to be submitted by the co-defendants to lenders in support of applications for loans for the purchase or refinance of properties and that the lenders would rely on the letters to approve the loans. King admitted that her actions caused lenders to incur losses of approximately $530,000.

She pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax document and three counts of mail fraud. She also admitted to impersonating a CPA.

I have been coming around to Joe Kristan’s view of the IRS regulating tax professionals. Ms. King had a license from CTEC, the California state body that licenses non-CPAs/EAs/Attorneys who prepare tax returns. (I verified her license–though it expired last November–on the CTEC website.) Her taking the required continuing education courses didn’t stop her from committing four felonies. The IRS being the regulatory body won’t stop bozo individuals from committing bozo actions. But I digress….

In any case, Ms. King will be sentenced in April.

The Secret Decoder Ring Strikes Again!

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

I’ve written about Sharon Kukhahn before. Ms. Kukhahn thought that there was some magical way to decode your IRS file and magically make your taxes disappear! Ms. Kukhahn sold her packages to the public and pocketed $2,000 – $3,000 per sale. As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s one born every minute.”

Back in 2008, the Department of Justice obtained an injunction against her from selling her worthless decoding scheme. (There is no secret IRS file to decode that will make your taxes disappear.) One would think that Ms. Kukhahn would fade into the sunset.


In April 2010 Ms. Kukhahn was arrested, charged with conspiracy and tax evasion. Not only did Ms. Kukhahn allegedly promote phony tax schemes, she also supposedly orchestrated a letter writing campaign to stop the IRS from collecting taxes.

Ms. Kukhahn was found guilty back in May. Ms. Kukhahn supposedly used the proceeds from her scheme to buy a yacht and other worldly goods; meanwhile, many of her clients are suffering under tax debts they’ll never be able to repay.

Sentencing is set for Wednesday.

Now, if you really want a decoder ring, here’s an offer from nearly 60 years ago that (at the time) would get you one. It wouldn’t have removed your taxes, but it was a decoder ring:

A Chestnut Is in the Rough

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Another week, two more individuals have been sued by the Department of Justice for allegedly promoting phony tax schemes. Rodney Chestnut and Nafeesah Hines are alleged to have found a unique way for you and I to obtain tax refunds: redemption. You see, there are supposedly secret tax accounts that you can get money out of just by filing phony Form 1099-A’s and 1099-OID’s.

I can’t tell you much more about this method, because it doesn’t exist. There are no secret tax accounts. This method (redemption) is as phony as a three-dollar bill.

Mr. Chestnut and Mr. Hines will have the joy of trying to find those secret accounts when they get their day in court. Good luck–they’re going to need it.

Full Tilt Poker: $238 Million (54%) May Have Gone to Pay Taxes

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

As I noted last week, Full Tilt Poker allegedly paid their owners $440 million, much of that money supposedly coming from player deposits. One question I’ve been asked is, where did that money go?

Well, I don’t know where all of it went, but I do know where a large percentage of it went: The IRS and California’s Franchise Tax Board.

Full Tilt Poker has a complicated structure (to say the least) but it appears that the main vehicle for ownership was Tiltware LLC. That’s a California LLC, still active, with one Raymond Bitar listed as the agent for service. (You can look it up here.) There’s also a Tiltware Merchandise Services, LLC (another California LLC) whose agent for service is one Chris Ferguson. Mr. Bitar is under indictment in the original Black Friday (April 15th) accusations against Full Tilt; Mr. Bitar and Mr. Ferguson are among the accused in last week’s expansion of the civil claims against Full Tilt.

In any case, there were approximately 19 owners of Full Tilt. Assuming that the payments went through Tiltware, California income tax would be owed on the entire amounts of the payments. A California LLC must withhold state income tax on foreign (non-California) members (owners) of the LLC. The withholding rate is 7%. (Some of the members are Californians, and would likely owe up to 10.55% on their income. But I’ll be conservative and use 7%.) That’s a little more than $31 million into the California treasury.

Next is federal income tax. Unless the members had incredibly bozo tax professionals, they’ve paid federal income tax on all of the income they’ve received from Full Tilt. Interestingly, there were no tax charges filed with the original Black Friday indictments. Given that it is routine in allegations of financial crimes for the US Attorney’s Office to check with IRS Criminal Investigations, it’s fairly certain that Ray Bitar paid his taxes.

Using an average federal tax rate of 33%, that’s over $146 million collected in US income tax.

I assume Full Tilt is being taxed as a partnership. An LLC can elect to be taxed as either a C-Corporation or an S-Corporation. Given that Full Tilt has foreign owners, it cannot elect S-Corporation status. While it could be taxed as a C-Corp, it’s more likely that it’s being taxed as the default option, as a partnership.

That leaves self-employment tax. General partners in a partnership (those involved in the business) pay self-employment tax on their income from the partnership. Self-employment tax is at 15.3% on the first $106,800 and 2.9% thereafter. Now, not all of the Full Tilt owners would pay this, but it’s likely that the majority who received distributions did pay this. I’ll use 2% rather than 2.9% as an overall estimated rate for the effect of the limited partners. Still, that’s nearly $9 million more to the Treasury.

The total is $186 million, but that’s an understatement. And that’s probably a significant understatement. Still, even this figure represents 42% of the money distributed.

The problem with this analysis is that for federal tax purposes, tax is owed on the full amount earned, no matter what the distributions were! Suppose you have an LLC that earns $1 million, but you don’t take any withdrawals. You still owe tax on the $1 million!

At this point it’s impossible to know what this excess income was. This would be money plowed back into Full Tilt for development, etc. The estimates I’ve seen state that Full Tilt made on average $150 million a year during this time frame; that would equate to $600 million during the four-year period of 2007 – 2010. That might mean another $52 million in federal income tax and $3 million in self-employment tax have been paid. (There would also be some additional California income tax paid, by the California resident members of Full Tilt. I’ll ignore that for this analysis, but this could mean that I’m still understating the total.)

That gives a high estimate of $238 million in taxes paid, or 54% of the total of money distributed. That would leave just over $200 million for the Full Tilt owners to have actually received after taxes.

I was asked why didn’t the Full Tilt owners just loan the company money back so that they could pay the American players after Black Friday? (The Department of Justice estimates that the amount owed to US players is $150 million.) It’s simple: They don’t have the money. Much of the money has been spent or invested; it’s likely that only a small portion of the $200 million was actually sitting in cash or like funds.

What does this mean for the future? For Full Tilt, lots of legal problems and difficulties in selling the business. Yet there is a rumor that a French firm is looking at acquiring Full Tilt and contributing enough capital to pay all current customers (an estimated $300 million); Americans can only hope that this is true. It’s far more likely that Full Tilt will end up in receivership with the pieces being doled out to high bidders, and all customers receiving pennies on the dollar for whatever they had on deposit at Full Tilt.