Posts Tagged ‘TaxOffenderOfTheYear’

Answering to a Higher Authority

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

Robert Brockman, the 2020 Tax Offender of the Year, passed away last weekend.  Mr. Brockman was facing a 39-count indictment for tax fraud and related charges; his trial was set for this coming February.  Mr. Brockman’s attorneys argued that he was incompetent to stand trial due to dementia; however, the judge had ruled him competent.  The criminal case is now moot—Mr. Brockman is answering to a higher authority; the civil case will continue against his estate (the IRS attempting to obtain back taxes, penalties, and interest).

My condolences to his family.

The 2021 Tax Offender of the Year

Friday, December 31st, 2021

It’s time once more for that (not really) most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year.  One year I’ll find that I don’t have many deserving winners (probably the year after I retire); however, there were plenty of individuals, businesses, and organizations that strove to take down the top prize.

We’ll start with the runners-up.  Dinesh Sah of Coppell, Texas saw the Paycheck Protection Plan loans as a wonderful thing.  Let’s not take out one; let’s do 15.  And let’s make up phony employees, payroll expenses, and tax returns to get $24.8 million in loans.  He pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced in July to more than 11 years at ClubFed.

Mustafa Shalash of Hilliard, Ohio didn’t commit huge fraud.  Rather, it’s the scope and what he did that is at issue.  Mr. Shalash won a Powerball jackpot in 2015 for $1 million.  He felt that the $290,000 withheld for taxes should come back to him, so he invented $1 million of gambling losses for his 2015 tax return.  Additionally, he had foreign bank accounts, and transferred $440,000 of his winnings to one in Jordan.  Yes, he ignored the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).  If you are lucky enough to win a prize in the lottery, your luck will likely become public information.  It would have been a lot easier for Mr. Shalash to simply have paid the additional tax.  Instead, he’ll be paying restitution of over $250,000 and could find himself at ClubFed for up to three years.

Aaron Aqueron of Clermont, Florida is a very good promoter.  He convinced numerous individuals that just by having a mortgage (or other debt) you’re entitled to a tax refund!  Sounds great.  But what he did was state that the financial institutions withheld tax when they hadn’t.  His clients filed tax returns claiming $14.6 million in refunds, and the IRS issued $7.6 million before catching on.  Yes, mortgage interest is an itemized deduction and, yes, if you have tax withheld you get to claim that on a tax return.  But the tax must actually be withheld—a minor step that was missed.  And Mr. Aqueron only charged between $10,000 and $15,000 to his soon-to-be-audited clients.  (If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)  Mr. Aqueron pleaded guilty earlier this month and will likely be residing at ClubFed in the near future.  Mr. Aqueron’s alleged co-conspirators will be tried in January.

Our last runners-up are a rap duo out of Detroit.  Sameerah Marrel and Noelle Brown were the “Deuces Wild” rap group.  Their rap career apparently didn’t take off, so they needed a different source of income.  They allegedly turned to tax fraud, inventing a number of trusts and purportedly noting that there was tax withheld on the trusts’ returns.  This allowed the duo to ask for $13.6 million in refunds (they received $5,539.049.28) when the actual amount of withholding was $0.  They’re facing years at ClubFed if convicted.


Coming in third place this year is Gary Hunsche of Troy, Illinois.  Mr. Hunsche owned and operated two employee leasing companies called Unique Personal Consultants and Unique Risk Management.  Mr. Hunsche faced a dilemma: How would he pay for his indoor basketball court on his new home (and other improvements to his home)?  He came up with the decidedly illegal answer: he would withhold payroll taxes but not remit $9.4 million.  It’s a wonderful scheme while it’s working, but it’s the one kind of tax fraud that will always be caught.  Sooner or later one of the employees’ returns gets looked at by the IRS, and the IRS wonders where the payroll taxes are.  He was sentenced to four years at ClubFed.

I really, really wanted to put the IRS as this year’s winner but they’re in second place.  The issues with the IRS this year are legion.  Good luck calling the IRS for assistance (you have a less than 10% chance of getting through).  Or you could be like my call earlier this week: You get in the queue, and after two hours waiting on the Practitioner line you hear, “We’re having technical difficulties.  You will be transferred back to the main number….We’re sorry, but due to extremely high call volume in the topic you’ve chosen, we cannot take your call at the present time.  Goodbye.”

Each year many returns filed with the IRS ‘fall out of processing.’  Normally, that means a one to four day delay in processing.  This year, it means at least four months.  The IRS Operations Status Page shows that as of December 18th there were 6.3 million unprocessed individual returns.  Clients are complaining, and there’s nothing I (or any other tax professional) can do.

If you filed an amended return, maybe your return will be processed within twelve months, but I wouldn’t bet on that.  The IRS Operations Page was changed to note, “The current timeframe can be more than 20 weeks instead of up to 16.”  I’m quoting 18 months (average) to my clients who have to paper-file amended returns, and I think that’s realistic.  If you can electronically file your amended return, you will shave off a few months (you’re likely looking at one year).

And then there are the IRS notices.  I had two clients receive notices stating their 2018 returns hadn’t been filed (both were electronically filed and accepted).  I called the IRS and found out that for one, it was a processing issue and my client should have received a new notice this past week (it didn’t come, so another call to the IRS is needed).  The other client never received a notice that he had to call the Identity Theft Unit.  He hasn’t been able to get through yet.

Many of my clients received notices and timely responded.  Unfortunately, while there are deadlines on taxpayers, there are no deadlines on the IRS.  I had one matter that took three years for the IRS to actually respond to our communication.  (The understaffed Taxpayer Advocate Service agreed to take the case, but the next day we received a letter from the IRS resolving the issue.)  I have another matter that has now exceeded three years (the IRS keeps sending it back and forth between their Cincinnati and Ogden offices).

I have had at least ten clients file Tax Court petitions with the IRS in 2021.  (These are the clients I know about–there could be others.)  Two of the cases involve genuine disputes related to Automated Underreporting Unit (AUR) notices and were destined to get to Tax Court.  Filing the petitions is the means to get these disputes to IRS Appeals.  The other eight are matters where the IRS never read my clients’ timely filed responses.  The IRS simply issued Notices of Deficiency, so the only method available for the taxpayers to dispute the matters was filing Tax Court Petitions.  In all of these cases, had someone read the response it is likely that the matter could have been resolved.

This is just a sampling of the disastrous status of “service” within the IRS today.  I do want to point out that I am not complaining about any of the employees I have dealt with this year.  In almost every case, the IRS employees I speak with are professional, courteous, and honestly want to resolve the matters.  The problems relate to (a) IRS top management refusing to admit to all of the problems, (b) the IRS drowning in paper (partially caused by the pandemic), (c) the Biden Administration refusing to order staff back to work at IRS Service Centers, and (d) Congress not properly funding the IRS.  Unfortunately, it will take several years for the IRS to work its way out of its current hole.  It’s time for the IRS to give accurate time-frames, extend response times to taxpayers, and for Congress to fund the IRS appropriately.


Oleg Tinkov is a Russian entrepreneur.  Like me, he is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.  By any standard he’s successful.  He founded Tinkoff Credit Systems in 2006  It’s now the second largest provider of credit cards in Russia.  In 2013, the bank went through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange; the IPO raised $1.1 billion (coincidentally, his net worth became $1.1 billion at that time).  TCS Group, the holder of Tinkoff Bank, is officially based in Limassol, Cyprus.  Mr. Tinkov earlier formed a wholesale electronics business he later sold, a food company, a brewery, and a cycling team.  His net worth is estimated by Bloomberg at $6.9 billion and by Forbes at $7 billion.

In 1996 Mr. Tinkov became a naturalized US citizen.  In 2013, three days after the IPO Mr. Tinkov relinquished his US citizenship at the US embassy in Moscow.  When you relinquish your citizenship, you must have filed all your tax returns and complete IRS Form 8854 (Initial and Annual Expatriation Statement).  If you renounce your citizenship and your net worth is more than $2 million, you owe the expatriation tax.  The fair market value is based on you hypothetically selling all your assets the day prior to your expatriation.

Mr. Tinkov was asked about his net worth by his US-based accountant, and he told him it was less than $2 million.  Rather than admitting the truth, he used $300,000 instead of the true net worth of $1.1 billion.  There is no extradition treaty between the US and Russia, so he likely felt safe.

Two things I’ve repeatedly said over the years are, “It’s always easier to simply pay what you owe,” and, “If you’re a celebrity or someone else who is a public figure, you want to make sure your tax returns are squeaky clean.”  While Mr. Tinkov isn’t a household name, Forbes annually publishes a list of billionaires and his name has been on it.  It wouldn’t take long for someone at the IRS to wonder why only 0.027% of his net worth was noted on his Form 8854.

Unbeknownst to him, an investigation was begun.  In September 2019 he was indicted.  In February 2020 he went to London; the United Kingdom does have an extradition treaty with the US.  Mr. Tinkov was arrested.  The US sought extradition; Mr. Tinkov contested on medical grounds (he was undergoing treatment for leukemia).

On October 1, 2021, Mr. Tinkov pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false tax return.  He paid the $248,525,339 of tax he would have had to pay back in 2013.  He also paid a $100 million fraud penalty, interest, and other penalties; the total penalties and interest added $260,415,845 to his total tax bill of $508,936,184.  Yes, he didn’t have to pay his taxes for eight years but it would have been far less costly to simply have prepared the tax returns correctly in the first place.  And half a billion in tax evasion gives Mr. Tinkov the 2021 award as Tax Offender of the Year.


That’s a wrap on 2021.  May all of you have a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Nominations Due for 2021 Tax Offender of the Year!

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

In just over two weeks it will be time for me to hand out the annual Tax Offender of the Year award.  I suspect that once again there are too many deserving nominees.  If you have a suggestion, feel free to email it to me at rcfox at claytontax dot com.  Our previous winners:

2020: Robert Brockman
2019: Lawrence R. Gazdick, Jr.
2018: California’s Train to Nowhere
2017: State and Local Pension Crisis
2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder

The 2020 Tax Offender of the Year

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

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 Amazon.com, 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.

The 2019 Tax Offender of the Year

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

This year really went by fast, but unfortunately there’s no shortage of candidates for the Tax Offender of the Year award. As a reminder, to be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions.

The United States Congress received another nomination. The correspondent noted that Congress has abdicated looking at spending, and that’s been done by both Democrats and Republicans. I agree, but that’s not enough to win this year.

California received two separate nominations. The legislature received one for A.B. 5. That’s the new law that prohibits most independent contractors in the ‘gig’ economy. The law will likely lead to fewer independent contractors (that’s the intent of it), but won’t increase employment and will lead to a lowering of tax collections. I agree completely with the individual who sent in that nomination. However, any impacts will be in 2020 (not 2019), so I think this should be held in abeyance until next year.

The California Office of Tax Appeals ruled that an individual selling into California but with no presence in the state owes California tax. While I expect this ruling to eventually be narrowed by federal courts (potentially being completely overruled), it’s a stupid ruling and will lead to many avoiding dealing with Californians. It’s another penny-wise, pound-foolish outcome from California.

Craig Orrock of Salt Lake City received a nomination. Mr. Orrock is a former IRS employee and a former attorney. We’ll stress the word former because his conduct ensured he can’t be either ever again. From the Department of Justice press release:

Evidence at trial showed that Orrock filed tax returns for the years 1993 through 2015, but did not pay the income taxes reported as due on those returns. Orrock attempted to prevent the IRS from collecting the reported income taxes by using entities, bank accounts, and trusts in other names to hide his income and assets from IRS collection officers, filing frivolous bankruptcy petitions, and filing an offer-in-compromise falsely representing to the IRS that he had virtually no assets.  For example, Orrock used an entity known as Arville Properties LLC to conceal from the IRS his ownership of real property that he sold in 2007 for $1.5 million. In all, Orrock evaded the payment of over $500,000 in federal income taxes.

Mr. Orrock will be paying nearly $924,000 of restitution and will spend 32 months at ClubFed.


Something I’ve stated since I began this blog is that if you want to get in trouble with the IRS, one of the easiest ways to do so is to withhold employment taxes and not remit them. As far as I know, the IRS investigates all such cases.

Lawrence R. Gazdick, Jr. founded an equipment rental business in Dulles, Virginia (near Washington, DC). Mr. Gazdick’s business appeared to be successful, in that he had 70 – 100 employees. He used various names for his businesses (which isn’t an issue), with multiple bank accounts (52 in 9 different banks). He offered health insurance for his employees, with a plan from Kaiser Permanente which cost over $200,000. That’s a business that’s doing well.

Of course, since I’m writing about this, there were some issues. None of his businesses bothered filing employment tax returns, but he was diligent in withholding employment taxes from his employees’ pay. It was only $3.874 million of trust fund taxes (along with an additional $1.477 million of employer FICA taxes). Additionally, Mr. Gazdick didn’t bother to pay Kaiser for the health insurance; the check was “in the mail.”

Mr. Gazdick also didn’t file corporation or LLC taxes. It’s not clear if he needed to file Forms 1120, 1120S, or 1065 for his businesses as he held his businesses to be corporations and LLCs, but something needed to be filed. At least he was consistent: Mr. Gazdick hadn’t filed personal tax returns since at least 2000. (Some tax professional is about to get a lot of business.)

Mr. Gazdick’s business came to the attention of the IRS. This was certain to happen. Consider that employees filed their income tax returns, noting withholding of income tax (and FICA taxes). The IRS won’t find the matching payroll tax returns (Forms 941) from the employer. The IRS will easily get evidence of the problem (either by looking at the W-2s filed with the Social Security Administration and/or getting copies of pay stubs from employees).

Mr. Gazdick had an answer: I’ll just change the name of the business. He used multiple names, likely in trying to keep the IRS at bay. It didn’t work, but not for the obvious reason. (It’s certain that sooner or later the IRS would have looked into the missing payroll tax deposits.)

Mr. Gazdick was previously convicted of a felony. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess firearms. Mr. Gazdick had a firearm for his business. That came to the attention of a task force formed under “Project Safe Neighborhoods.” The goal of Project Safe Neighborhoods (which began in 2001) is reducing violent crime. The investigation likely began because of the gun. A helpful hint to anyone who is going to commit a felony with a high likelihood of investigation: Do not commit another felony which also has a high likelihood of investigation. But I digress….

It appears that the Project Safe Neighborhoods investigation led to the tax investigation. The tax case was pretty much a slam dunk given the facts (that I noted above). Mr. Gazdick has pled guilty, and has promised to make restitution of the $5.35 million in employment tax loss and the $200,000 which wasn’t paid to Kaiser. While sentencing was supposed to have occurred in October, it appears to have been delayed.


And that’s a wrap on 2019. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Nominations for the 2019 Tax Offender of the Year Are Due

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

In a little less than a month it will be time to reveal this year’s winner of the prestigious “Tax Offender of the Year” award. Remember, To be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Here are the past lucky recipients:

2018: California’s Train to Nowhere
2017: State and Local Pension Crisis
2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder

The 2018 Tax Offender of the Year

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Another year has gone by. And that means it’s once again time for that most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. As usual, there’s a plethora of nominees. As usual, I wish there weren’t any deserving winners.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) received a nomination. “This isn’t tax simplification, and few have received benefits,” a correspondent told me. The first part of the statement is absolutely true. The TCJA is anything but simplification. As for few receiving benefits, almost all the provisions of the TCJA impact 2018 taxes (and onward). We’ll have a much better idea of what this law will (or won’t) due to taxpayers in a few months. I’m holding this nomination in abeyance until next year.

The Miccosukee tribe of Indians received another nomination. The tribe has been fighting a losing battle over the taxation of profits from their casino in southern Florida. The tribe itself is exempt from taxation (it’s a sovereign nation); however, members of the tribe are not exempt based on distributions of those profits. This issue has been percolating up and down the Tax Court, District Courts, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for a few years. On June 4th the 11th Circuit ruled in United States v Jim:

When an Indian tribe decides to distribute the revenue from gaming activities, however, the distributions are subject to federal taxation. Id. § 2710(b)(3)(D). The Indian tribe, as a consequence, must report the distributions, notify its members of their tax liability, and withhold the taxes due on them. Id. § 2710(b)(3)(D); 26 U.S.C. §§ 3402(r)(1), 6041(a).

In the case before us, an Indian tribe engaged in gaming activities. Each quarter, the tribe used the revenue of the gaming activities to fund per capita distributions to its members. But the tribe disregarded its tax obligations on these distributions. It neither reported the distributions nor withheld taxes on them…

In this appeal, the member and the tribe contend that the District Court erred in concluding that the exemption for Indian general welfare benefits did not apply to the distributions. The tribe alone asserts that the District Court erroneously upheld tax penalties against the member and incorrectly attributed to the member the distributions of her husband and daughters. Lastly, the tribe argues that the District Court erred by entering judgment against it as an intervenor.

We affirm the ruling of the District Court in each of these matters. The distribution payments cannot qualify as Indian general welfare benefits under [the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act] because Congress specifically subjected such distributions to federal taxation in [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act]. The member has waived any arguments as to penalties or the amount assessed against her, and the tribe lacks a legal interest in those issues. The District Court did not err in entering judgment against the tribe because the tribe intervened as of right and the Government sought to establish its obligation to withhold taxes on the distributions. [footnote omitted]

This taxpayer owes $278,758.83 as of April 9, 2015; the tribe and its members could owe more than $1 billion in personal income taxes. Yet that sum pales in comparison to our ‘winner.’


As most of you know, I grew up just outside of Chicago. I have fond memories of riding the El and of taking the train up to Milwaukee. Subways and other forms of mass transit work well in dense cities such as Chicago, New York, and Boston.

Amtrak, however, has been a money loser. Running passenger trains through the northeast corridor ekes out a profit, but the rest of the service doesn’t make money. Put simply, you need a dense corridor to make trains a winner.

In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 1A. As noted in the ballot summary, “Provides for a bond issue of $9.95 billion to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.” The argument in favor stated:

Proposition 1A is a $9.95 billion bond measure for an 800-mile High-Speed Train network that will relieve 70 million passenger trips a year that now clog California’s highways and airports—WITHOUT RAISING TAXES…

Proposition 1A will save time and money. Travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 2½ hours for about $50 a person. With gasoline prices today, a driver of a 20-miles-per-gallon car would spend about $87 and six hours on such a trip.

The rebuttal to the argument stated:

Prop. 1A is a boondoggle that will cost taxpayers at least $20 billion in principal and interest. The whole project could cost $90 billion—the most expensive railroad in history. No one really knows how much this will ultimately cost.

Now that we’re ten years after passage, we can determine that both sides were wrong. The last official analysis showed a price tag of $77 billion. The New York Times, in an article this past July, upped the price to $100 billion. So both sides were wrong about the cost, but the opponents had the right idea. And with this project years from completion and the cost having risen every time there’s been a new analysis, I’ll take the over on $100 billion. That’s why California’s high speed rail project (aka “The Train to Nowhere”) is this year’s Tax Offender of the Year.

So where will the money come from to build the train? It’s not coming from this Congress; President Trump and Republicans in Congress vociferously oppose the project. Proposition 1A says that the train must be self-supporting; less than 3% of high-speed train networks in the world are self-supporting. Authority Spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley told the Sacramento Bee “We haven’t been shy about the fact that this project was never fully funded.” The hope is that once the system begins to operate that it will show private industry its usefulness and that they would be willing to invest in the project.

Consider that the first segment will run from Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, to Madera, a bit south of Merced. It does go through the San Joaquin Valley’s largest city, Fresno, but it does not run through Visalia; instead, it runs near Hanford. I’ll be blunt: There’s no chance that the first segment will be self-supporting. There aren’t enough riders wanting to commute between these cities to make the line profitable. Additionally, state route 99 runs between all these cities. Yes, it will take longer in a car but you have your own transportation when you get to your destination, and you don’t have to wait for the train.

Where high speed rail works is in dense corridors. For example, the Japanese bullet trains run between such cities as Tokyo (population 38 million for the metropolitan area), Osaka (19 million), and Nagoya (9 million). The California bullet trains will initially run between Shafter (population 19,608) and Madera (population 65,508). If we use Bakersfield (840,000 for the metropolitan area) and Fresno (972,000) we get something a little better. Still, how many people really commute between these cities? Having lived in Visalia for years, I can state unequivocally it’s not a lot.

Proponents argue that once the train reaches the Bay Area and Southern California, ridership will pick up; both metropolitan areas have millions of residents. But there’s a huge difference between Tokyo and either California metropolitan area. The Tokyo metropolitan area is 5,240 square miles with a population of 38 million. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is 33,954 square miles with a population of 18.7 million. The Bay Area is 10,191 square miles with a population of 7.77 million. Put simply, Japan is densely populated so train travel works very well.

Additionally, there are several airports serving both the Los Angeles metropolitan area (Los Angeles International, Burbank, Ontario, Long Beach, and Orange County) and the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland). There are numerous flights between each of the Southern and Northern California airports. These flights take about one hour and cost about $100. High speed rail is going to have to beat that in some way in order to attract paying customers. Frankly, I doubt either will happen.

If the system is built, I do think that it will attract riders going to and from the Central Valley. There aren’t many flights to Fresno from the Bay Area (or from Los Angeles). There’s also the issue of demand; there really isn’t that much into the Valley. But the service can certainly attract riders there. However, it’s not going to be near enough riders for the project to pay for itself.

The problem for California taxpayers is that they are liable for the project. Those bonds will need to be paid back. There’s a need for at least another $70 billion to finish the line. The best estimate for the annual subsidy is $100 million. Yes, I know that Proposition 1A specified that there can’t be a subsidy. Does anyone really believe that California’s politicians will follow the law on this? (Hint: I don’t.)

But Russ, this is a state project. Its impact is limited to California. If California wants to shoot itself in the foot, we should let it. The problem with that argument is that the next time the California economy suffers a downturn, California will run to Congress for a bail-out. Today, the Trump Administration is likely to tell California, “No.” However, I have my doubts that a future Democratic administration won’t go for a bail-out on this project, leaving non-Californians liable for this boondoggle. There’s a need for $70 billion. The sooner that this project is put out of its misery the better for both California and the country.

Quentin Kopp, a former Supervisor in San Francisco, was the man who introduced the project and was a proponent. He told reason.com

It is foolish, and it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail. And the litigation, which is pending, will result, I am confident, in the termination of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s deceiving plan…

[The selling of bonds is] deceit. That’s not a milestone, it’s desperation, because High-Speed Rail Authority is out of money.

California High Speed Rail is a worthy winner of the 2018 Tax Offender of the Year award.


That’s a wrap on 2018. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Nominations Due for Tax Offender of the Year

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

In a little less than a month it will be time to reveal this year’s winner of the prestigious “Tax Offender of the Year” award. Remember, To be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Here are the past lucky recipients:

2017: State and Local Pension Crisis

2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder

The 2017 Tax Offender of the Year

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

It’s once again time for that most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. To win this award you need to do more than cheat on your taxes; it has to be a Bozo-like action or actions. As usual, we had plenty of nominees.

President Trump received a nomination. Now, I realize many do not like the President’s politics, and the tax reform bill that was signed into law isn’t tax simplification. However, it is tax reform, and it will lower taxes for most Americans. As for Democrats’ charges that it will kill millions and cause the world to end, please. President Trump may deserve criticism over other political issues, but not on taxes (today).

Finishing in third place was Joseph Cervone, CPA, of White Plains, New York. Mr. Cervone saw the tax credits available for energy and coal and thought, “I can get free money for my clients! Let’s just submit $23 million of phony credits!” Mr. Cervone is enjoying 22 months at ClubFed.

Finishing in second place was the California legislature. The Bronze Golden State had a flirting with single-payer health care; luckily for California taxpayers the projected $400 Billion cost caused even the ultra-liberals to get cold feet. California continues to waste money on the train to nowhere. The project originally had a cost of $33 billion; it’s now up to $68 billion. It’s probable, though, that the project will die as further funding from the federal government is unlikely. It would be nice for Sacramento to stop spending money on it; the $3 billion spent could be used for far better things.


I grew up just outside of Chicago. I’m a fan of Chicago sports teams (save the White Sox), and many of my relatives live in or near Chicago. Yet Illinois in general and Chicago in particular is now known for high and increasing taxes and out-migration. A search on Chicago taxes finds stories like, “Chicago Property Tax Bills Going up 10 Percent This Year,” “Increased taxes, fees on phones, ride-hailing and concert tickets approved in 2018 Chicago budget,” and “Chicago’s soda tax is repealed.” You can read an article about fed-up Illinois homeowners debating moving from Chicago.

The question, though, is why are taxes increasing in Illinois and Chicago? Is it just the politicians, or is there an underlying cause? There is an answer: Public Employee Pension Funds. These funds (generally on the state level) are the cause of the problem in Illinois, and are this year’s Tax Offender of the Year.

The Tax Foundation has a map showing the funding in various states. Here are the top ten (best) funded states as of 2015 (latest year that statistics are available):

1. South Dakota, 107%
2. Oregon, 104%
3. Wisconsin, 103%
4. North Carolina, 99%
4 (tie). Tennessee, 99%
6. New York, 98%
7. Idaho, 95%
8. Nebraska, 93%
9. Delaware, 92%
10. Florida, 91%

And here are the ten worst:

40. Arizona, 64%
40 (tie). Colorado, 64%
42. Hawaii, 61%
42 (tie). Rhode Island, 61%
42 (tie). South Carolina, 61%
45. Alaska, 60%
45 (tie) Pennsylvania, 60%
47. Connecticut, 51%
48. New Jersey, 48%
49. Illinois, 41%
49 (tie) Kentucky, 41%

The Tax Foundation’s closing paragraph explains the problem:

Pension obligations must be fulfilled eventually. Policymakers should consider that reform now may be less costly and less painful than coping with a larger crisis later.

As of 2015, both California and Nevada are about average (at 74% funded). Unfortunately, California is now at 64% and falling. So why has this happened and what can be done about it?

Pew has a report on the 2015 analysis, and the problems began in the early 2000s: Liabilities increased at the same basic rate while assets in pension funds didn’t. In many states the pension fund crisis hasn’t come (yet). In a few, it won’t come (pensions are properly funded). In at least one state, Illinois, the crisis exists today; in another, California, it’s coming very soon. Consider that California pensions aren’t well funded yet we’ve had a huge boon in the stock market over the last two years!

Some cities and counties are in even worse shape. A Hoover Institution report shows that both Chicago and Cook County (the county that Chicago is in) have massively underfunded pensions. So Chicago residents have a triple whammy: underfunded state, county, and city pensions.

As for the reasons why this crisis exists, there are a couple.

1. When rates of return increased in the late 1990s, that increase was built into new public employee contracts. The late 1990s featured the dot-com boom in the stock market. Those rates of returns, in the 7% range, aren’t seen today (they’re about 2% to 3%).

2. Politicians ignoring the issue. It’s always easiest to pass the buck to the next mayor, or the next governor, or the next state legislature. That’s what’s been done in Illinois, and the state is in severe crisis. The Democrats who control the state legislature are beholden to the public employee unions who, shockingly, don’t want to see pensions cut. Last time I looked, Illinois is nearly a year behind in paying its bills–all because of the pension crisis. So Democrats are only proposing tax increases rather. Residents who can move are doing so, and they can escape the pension crisis.

So what’s the answer to this crisis? There are a couple:

1. Pension reform is needed nearly everywhere in the US. Yes, pension benefits are going to decrease. That’s going to happen, either through negotiation or when the systems run out of money. It’s a certainty.

2. Reform for civil service/public employee unions. I am reminded of what President Franklin Roosevelt said:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Meaningful reform means that public employee unions won’t have collective bargaining or massive reform of civil service (or both). Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin noted this in a speech and implemented reforms. You will note that Wisconsin pensions are fully funded (one of only three such states).

Pain is coming in the world of pensions. Public employee unions can either recognize it, and live with change, or it will be forced upon them. Taxpayers stuck in bad states (e.g. Illinois) and bad cities (e.g. Chicago) will vote with their feet. Chicago politicians can’t tax John and Mary Smith who leave Chicago for places like Florida. Politicians also need to recognize reform is mandatory. Yes, it will be painful but the cost of kicking this can further down the road is even greater.


That’s a wrap on 2017. While I hope that 2018 will not provide me a lengthy list of candidates for Tax Offender of the Year, I suspect (as usual) that I’ll have plenty of choices.

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

Nominations Due for 2017 Tax Offender of the Year

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

In a little less than a month it will be time to reveal this year’s winner of the prestigious “Tax Offender of the Year” award. Remember, To be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Here are the past lucky recipients:

2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder