Archive for the ‘Tax Evasion’ Category

If You’re a Celebrity…

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

…It pays to file and pay your taxes. This goes even for those behind the scenes.

Mario Winans is a record producer, a singer, and a songwriter. He’s won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance. He may be best known for “I Don’t Wanna Know,” a single that reached #2 in tghe United States. Mr. Winans has been successful, earning $2.8 million (gross income) from 2008 through 2012. We know how much he paid in taxes, and that’s the problem: He didn’t pay anything. Did he have some tax shelter, or perhaps a Net Operating Loss he took advantage of?

No, he simply didn’t file returns. That’s not a good idea, and it became an especially bad idea when the IRS figured this out. Mr. Winans pleaded guilty on Thursday; he faces up to two years at ClubFed, restitution of $434,968, and a possible $200,000 fine.

As usual, it’s always a lot easier to simply pay your taxes…especially if you’re a celebrity. Here’s Mr. Winan’s in “I Don’t Wanna Know;” I guess he now knows that filing and paying his taxes would have been a better idea.

Paying Employment Taxes Is Optional…Until You Get Caught

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Two stories regarding employment taxes from the past week should serve as a reminder that paying employment taxes is only optional until you get caught.

First, an update on the individual who thought he could just create a new business entity every time the IRS asked about his paying employment taxes. Agim Zendeli owned the Ziggies chain of restaurants in Missouri; he pleaded guilty in January to not remitting $1.3 million in payroll taxes. He was sentenced to 37 months at ClubFed and must make restitution of $1.3 million (which he had previously agreed to do).

Meanwhile, out of Germantown, Tennessee (suburban Memphis) comes the story of Larry Thornton. Mr. Thornton was the majority owner of one Memphis business and the sole owner of another. I’ll let the DOJ press release tell the story:

Beginning in the second quarter of 2007, Thornton caused SEI to stop paying over the taxes required to be withheld from SEI’s employees’ paychecks and caused SEI to stop timely filing Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Returns, Forms 941, with the IRS. Beginning in the first quarter of 2010, Thornton caused First Touch to stop paying over the taxes required to be withheld from First Touch’s employees’ paychecks and caused First Touch to fail to timely file Forms 941 with the IRS. Between 2007 and 2011, Thornton collected more than $6.8 million in employment taxes from SEI and First Touch employees’ paychecks, but failed to pay those collected taxes over to the IRS. Thornton also failed to pay his companies’ matching share of FICA taxes during those years. During that time period, two of Thornton’s full-time accountants – both of whom were certified public accountants (CPAs) – warned Thornton about his failure to pay over employment taxes. Both CPAs resigned their positions due to Thornton’s unwillingness to comply with his employment tax obligations.

During the same years in which Thornton failed to comply with his employment tax obligations, Thornton spent more than $6.2 million from the business bank accounts on personal expenses, including house and condominium payments; vehicle, yacht and motorcycle loan payments; personal travel; and start-up funding for his wife’s beauty boutique. According to court documents, Thornton also failed to file personal and corporate income tax returns. As part of the guilty plea, Thornton admitted that his illegal conduct caused a tax loss of more than $8.9 million to the IRS.

Of course the IRS will understand spending $6.2 million on personal expenses rather than remitting your payroll taxes. I mean what’s more important: buying a yacht or paying the government? Mr. Thornton was sentenced to full restitution and to spend one year at ClubFed.

As a reminder, all employment tax remission issues are investigated by the IRS. If you want to visit ClubFed, having employees and not remitting payroll taxes is a quick and easy way to do so.

Three Sets of Books Isn’t Better than One

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

From time to time I’ve seen stories of individuals using two sets of books: One with the actual numbers and one with the (lesser) numbers used to prepare the tax returns. It’s a great idea…until you get caught. A former owner of a Las Vegas liquor store took the double set of books idea a bit further.

Jeffrey Nowak and Ramzi Suliman owned a chain of liquor stores here in Las Vegas. The stores were successful, but the income reported on the tax returns was inaccurate. Mr. Nowak gave his tax professional the second set of books that left out about $4 million in cash receipts. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that there was also a third set of books; that set compared the true and skimmed versions of books. The Department of Justice press release notes, “For tax years 2006 to 2009, Nowak reported a total income tax owed of only $313, when in fact Nowak owed more than $400,000. The total tax loss from the conspiracy is nearly $1 million.”

Mr. Nowak was indicted and tried this past week. He was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States, assiting in filing false corporate tax returns, and tax evasion. He’s looking at a lengthy term at ClubFed when he’s sentenced in November. Mr. Suliman pleaded guilty in 2014; he is awaiting sentencing.

For those wondering: Three sets of books isn’t better than two, and two sets of books isn’t better than one.

If You Want to Go to ClubFed…

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

…The simplest, fastest, and easiest method (via the tax world) is to withhold employment taxes and not remit them to the IRS. This is always investigated. But at least once a month I see yet another example.

Take the case of Bernard Haag of Piedmont, South Dakota. Mr. Haag was the president and sole stockholder of a corporation, and the sole member of a limited liability company. Through these entities he owned a day care facility. So far, so good. He withheld taxes from his employees’ wages. And as the Department of Justice press release notes, “…[He] willfully failed to pay over those taxes to the United States for all of 2005 through 2011, and three quarters of 2012. Haag also willfully failed to pay the employer’s portion of taxes on wages paid to employees of Big Dog and Concept Development for all of 2005 to 2012. Rather than paying over the taxes, Haag used a portion of the withholdings for his own personal use.”

Adding to his misery he filed for bankruptcy, and also was convicted of concealment of bankruptcy assets. In total, he got 18 months at ClubFed and must make restitution of over $300,000. A helpful hint that I’ve repeated for over ten years: Don’t do this! You will get caught.

Lionel Messi On Trial For Tax Evasion

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Football–well, soccer for us colonials–is a big business. Lionel Messi is one of the world’s best players. The Spanish tax agency, Agencia Tributaria, accuses Mr. Messi (and his father) of evading €4.16 million of tax on his image rights. Mr. Messi says he just did what his father, Jorge Messi, said to do.

The trial of the two begins tomorrow in Barcelona; Lionel Messi is on trial even though prosecutors asked that the case against him be dismissed (the judge refused). The court will have to decide whether the Messis used a web of interlocking phony companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying tax in Spain. Lionel Messi has made a protective payment of the tax.

The trial is expected to conclude this week. Both defendants face up to 22 1/2 months in prison and fines of up to €4.16 million.

Mix Sacked: From Hall of Fame to ClubFed?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Ron Mix is in the NFL Hall of Fame for his play as an offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers. He was nicknamed the “Intellectual Assassin” for the combination of his physical play and his law degree. Mr. Mix’s law practice focused on civil litigation with an emphasis on workers compensation claims for professional athletes.

Mr. Mix paid a referral fee to a non-attorney for clients. That’s prohibited. From the Kansas City Star:

Instead of paying the person directly, Mix donated about $155,000 over three years to a charity operated by that person (identified as “Individual F” in the indictment), prosecutors said. Then Mix claimed those payments on his tax returns as charitable deductions…

Individual F operated The Sixth Man Foundation, which did business as the charity Project Contact Africa, according to the documents.

According to court documents, Individual F falsely told Mix that the donations would be spent on “alleviating suffering in Africa.”

However, Individual F used the bulk of the donations “for his own personal enjoyment and to fund his lifestyle,” according to the plea agreement.

Had the payments gone to a real charity (rather than Individual F), everything might have been copacetic. (This still could have been against ethics rules for attorneys, but the charitable deductions Mr. Mix made would have been legitimate.) Mr. Mix could have used the IRS’s online search tool to verify that the Sixth Man Foundation was a legitimate charity, eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Mr. Mix has already made restitution. Given that and his cooperation, I expect his sentence will be light. Still, had he followed a former president (“Trust but Verify [the charity]”) it’s likely this would not have happened.

DOJ Press Release

UPDATE: It is clear from reading the indictment of “Individual F” (Kermit Washington) that Project Contact Africa was a real charity. The Department of Justice is alleging that very few of the donations that were meant for PCA actually made it to Africa. (See this post for more.)

He Didn’t Wear His Sunglasses at Night

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Speaking of guilty pleasures, one of my favorite 1980’s songs is Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night.” One New York seller of sunglasses forgot a not-so-minor detail of selling sunglasses, and may be finding his way to ClubFed.

Michael Stern was the owner of Prestige Optical in New York City. He branched out to selling sunglasses (and other glasses) online, collecting $656,780 of sales for 2007 and 2008. Just one minor detail was forgotten by Mr. Stern: Putting those sales on his tax return.

Yes, online income is just as taxable as through a brick and mortar store, and the IRS discovered the omission. He pleaded guilty to two counts of filing a false tax return; he’s already agreed to make restitution to the IRS of $190,781 but he also faces up to three years at ClubFed and a $250,000 fine.

I didn’t remember that the music video of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night” has a prison theme. It’s definitely apropos here:

Well, He Did Make At Least One Payroll Tax Payment

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

As an Enrolled Agent, I know that if I have employees and collect payroll tax for the employees, I had better remit it to the IRS (and state tax agencies). When I’ve been the employer, I’ve done that without fail. A CPA in Utah is alleged to do that once in twelve years. He’s also alleged to have not paid his personal income taxes for eight years.

David Bybee of Kaysville, Utah is alleged to have run several businesses. The IRS supposedly wanted him to remit his income taxes for eight years from 2000 – 2009 (2003 and 2004 were paid). The US Department of Justice was called in when the IRS couldn’t get anywhere. Mr. Bybee was indicted; he allegedly “…took steps to conceal and attempt to conceal the nature, extent and location of his assets from the IRS to avoid paying the taxes.”

I’ve repeated numerous times over the4 years that if you want to get in trouble with the IRS the easiest way is to simply not remit payroll taxes. From the DOJ press release:

A second count of attempt to evade and defeat payment of tax relates to efforts the indictment alleges Bybee took to evade paying payroll taxes to the federal government on behalf of the employees of three companies he controlled from about April 30, 2000, to about March 14, 2011. Bybee deducted and collected payroll taxes totaling at least $39,244.49 but did not report the payroll taxes with the exception of one employment tax payment of $899.32 in April 2012. Bybee was determined to be responsible for the payroll taxes and was assessed penalties totaling $47,919.06 for the unpaid taxes. According to the indictment, he has failed to make any payments.

Mr. Bybee is also accused of not remitting all the federal income tax that was withheld to the IRS. In all, a trifecta of trouble for a CPA.

Once again, you may notice that we have an individual who should absolutely know the rules on remitting taxes. And once again you may notice that we have an individual who didn’t follow through on those rules. Licensing tax professional will get rid of the lowest of bad hanging fruit, but it won’t stop bad people from behaving badly.

Under the Table Worked for a While…

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

Here’s a scheme that has a somewhat better chance of working than the usual employer tax fraud (of not remitting employment taxes, a scheme with a 0% chance of working). Let’s pay employees “under the table” using income to pay for it. I’ll take remittances, cash them at a check cashing location, and then pay my undocumented employees using the cash I generate. The employees won’t complain, so I won’t be caught! And I’ll pay less in income taxes and workers compensation! What can go wrong?

Ignoring the multiple felonies being committed (tax evasion and workers compensation fraud to start), this scheme will likely be discovered in time. Some undocumented employees actually file tax returns, and those taxes won’t match. A 1099 might be issued from a customer, and that income might not make it onto the books of the company. Or the workers compensation company might get suspicious: How are you doing all of your work without that many employees?

A Watertown, Massachusetts business owner executed this plan. He began paying his employees (of a window and gutter cleaning company) under the table in 2008…and it worked! So he continued this plan for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. The Department of Justice press release doesn’t say when someone caught on, but someone did. IRS Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security, and the Massachusetts Insurance Fraud Bureau all investigated. This past week Richard Moxley pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and one count of mail fraud. Mr. Moxley will likely be heading to ClubFed.

As usual, the best idea is simply to pay employees “above the table” and pay your taxes…but that rarely occurs to the Bozo mind.

Bozo Tax Tip #9 1/2: 300 Million Witnesses Can’t Be Right!

Monday, April 4th, 2016

I am a sad person this year as I’m writing my Bozo Tax Tips. Richard Hatch did nothing this past year to keep him in my top ten tax tips. Thus, Mr. Hatch is no longer part of the top ten. But since Tax Season has been extended one business day, I am giving Mr. Hatch his own special place in my tips this year.

One tip I can give any celebrity: Be careful about your taxes. The IRS loves going after Bozo tax celebrities. So here’s the story that refuses to die.

For a tax blogger, people like Richard Hatch are wonderful. Hatch, for those who don’t remember, was the winner of the first Survivor and won $1 million. About 300 million individuals worldwide saw Hatch take down the $1 million.

Hatch received a Form 1099-MISC for his winnings. In the United States, winnings from contests are taxable. Hatch claims that CBS and/or the producers of Survivor promised him that they would pay his taxes. (Both CBS and the producers of Survivor deny this charge.)

Here’s what I wrote back in January 2006 when Hatch was convicted:

Mr. Hatch has cemented a place in the Bozo Tax Criminals Hall of Fame (a website I’ll create one day). Let’s look at his stupid not so good actions.

1. Hatch goes to accountant #1, find out that he owes over $300,000 in taxes. He goes to accountant #2, and the tax bill is around $240,000. (At his level of income, some differences in taxes owed is normal.) He then asks accountant #2 what his return would be if he didn’t declare the $1 million in Survivor winnings. Accountant #2 makes Hatch sign a statement that he won’t file that return (it showed Hatch getting a $4300 refund). He filed that return.

2. The IRS amazingly discovers his tax evasion. (With perhaps 300 million witnesses, even the most inept attorney could prove he won $1 million.) He’s offered a plea bargain: pay your taxes, and we’ll let you off fairly easily on the jail time. He accepts the plea initially, then changes his mind.

3. The case goes to trial. Hatch claims that CBS should have withheld taxes. His attorney might want to ask any seasoned accountant about what you should do if taxes aren’t withheld but should have been. (Answer: you pay the taxes.)

4. Hatch’s attorney can’t find the OJ Simpson jury. (Hat tip: Roth Tax Updates)

5. Hatch is found guilty. Roth Tax Updates speculates that his sentence will be around 3 years in jail. Oh, he’ll also have to pay those taxes, and interest and penalties. The maximum possible sentence is 13 years in prison and a fine of $600,000.

Hatch is now serving his prison sentence of 51 months. He recently appealed his conviction, though chances of it being overturned seem slim.

2008 Update: And they were slim. Last February, Hatch’s appeal was denied. As you might expect, 300 million witnesses can’t be wrong.

2009 Update: Richard Hatch continues to look for that needle in the haystack. He’s filed another appeal, though to this non-lawyer it’s more likely that he’ll be released after serving his 51 months at ClubFed than getting a favorable ruling.

2010 Update: Mr. Hatch was released in mid-2009. He then violated the terms of his release and was sent back to ClubFed. Finally, in October, Mr. Hatch was released. He’ll be spending the next couple of years in his home state of Rhode Island.

2011 Update: As part of his sentence, Mr. Hatch was supposed to amend his tax returns and declare the $1 million of income. He neglected to do that. Judge William Smith didn’t neglect to give Mr. Hatch a piece of his mind this past March: He sentenced Mr. Hatch to nine more months at ClubFed. Following his release from ClubFed (in December), Mr. Hatch will have 26 months of supervised release.

2012 Non-Update: Mr. Hatch was released from prison in late December 2011. He has filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. The chance of the Supreme Court taking his case is about the same as a blizzard in August in Las Vegas. The writ was denied.

2013 Update: Mr. Hatch’s non-payment of taxes extends north of the border. Mr. Hatch owned a piece of property in Sydney, Nova Scotia. That property was sold in a tax sale after Mr. Hatch didn’t pay the property taxes on it for at least six years.

2014 Update: Mr. Hatch still thinks he did nothing wrong. Last year, on Oprah: Where Are They Now, Hatch told Oprah Winfrey, I never did anything deserving of prison time…I never attempted to evade taxes, which was what I was convicted of.” I’ll let the reader decide on the veracity of Mr. Hatch’s statement.

Judge Smith’s remarks from over two years ago have not yet sunk in to Mr. Hatch. “You can continue to proclaim your innocence…You don’t have the option of engaging in this type of game or negotiation with the court. It needs to be a severe punishment. That’s the only thing that will deter you in the future.”

2015-2016 Non-Update: Mr. Hatch was silent on the tax front since his appearance on Oprah. It appears that this may be the last year I’ll have Mr. Hatch in my Bozo Tax Tips.

And to think I’d have had so little to write about if Mr. Hatch had just paid his $300,000 in tax in the first place.