IRS Wins Against a Lawyer’s Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties | FBAR Tax Lawyer

On May 3, 2017, the IRS scored an important victory in United States v. Little, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67580 (SD NY 2017) by defeating a Motion to Dismiss FBAR charges made by the defendant, Mr. Michael Little. The motion was based on an argument that is often used by opponents of FBAR penalties – the unconstitutionality of the FBAR penalties based on a tax treaty and the vagueness of the FBAR requirement as applied to the defendant. While I do not intend to provide a comprehensive analysis of the Motion to Dismiss FBAR Charges and the reasons for its rejection, I do wish to outline certain important aspects of the judge’s opinion.

Brief Overview of Important Facts

The Motion to Dismiss FBAR Charges was made by Mr. Little, a UK citizen and a US permanent resident. Mr. Little was a UK lawyer who also became a US lawyer and practiced in New York. During this time, he helped Mr. Harry G.A. Seggerman’s heirs hide millions in offshore accounts. For his services, he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars which were never disclosed to the IRS.

In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Little was charged with willful failure to file FBARs and his US tax returns. He was further charged with various crimes arising out of his alleged assistance to Mr. Seggerman’s heirs in a scheme to avoid the taxes due on their inheritance held in undeclared offshore accounts.

Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties Based on “Void for Vagueness” Standard

The key argument of the Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties was based on the so-called “Void for Vagueness” Standard. The court cited United States v. Rybicki, 354 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir. 2003) to define the standard as follows: “the void-for-vagueness doctrine requires that a penal statute define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

In the first part of the Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties, Mr. Little essentially argued that, in his circumstances, the application of the FBAR requirement was too vague due to the 2008 changes in the definition of the required FBAR filers, particularly with respect to exclusion of persons “in or doing business in the United States”.

The Court dismissed the argument stating that whatever was an issue with respect to “in or doing business” provision, a lawful alien resident of ordinary intelligence (whether or not he was “doing business in the United States”) would have understood that the FBAR requirement applied to him because the definition of the “United States resident” includes green card holders. Hence, the vagueness of the original FBAR definition was inapplicable to a lawful alien resident such as Mr. Little.

Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties and Other Criminal Counts: No Vagueness in Criminal Statutes Because Willfulness Must be Proven Beyond Reasonable Doubt

The Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties also contained several more “void for vagueness” arguments (related not just to FBARs, but also to Mr. Little’s failure to file US tax returns and his role as an “offshore account enabler”). Among these arguments, Mr. Little especially relied on several US-UK tax treaty provisions which led him to believe that he was not a US tax resident (in particular, he believed that he was in the United States temporarily and he interpreted the treaty as stating that he was not a US tax resident even though he had a green card).

The Court dismissed Mr. Little’s treaty-based arguments based on its interpretation of how a person of ordinary intelligence would have understood these provisions. Here, I wish to emphasize one of the most important parts of the decision – the affirmation that the worldwide income reporting requirement was not vague. The Court found that “the U.S. statutes and regulations that require alien lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to either (a) file a tax return and pay taxes on worldwide income, or (b) file a tax return reporting worldwide income and indicate that he or she is taking a particular protection under the Treaty, are not unconstitutionally vague as applied”.

The most interesting aspect of the Court’s decision, however, was in its last part. Here is where judge Castel dealt a death blow to all of Mr. Little’s void-for-vagueness arguments. The Court stated that, since a conviction can only be achieved if the government proves willfulness beyond reasonable doubt, none of the relevant criminal tax provisions (including criminal FBAR penalties) can be deemed as vague.

The reason for this conclusion is very logical – in order to prove willfulness, the government must establish that: “the defendant knew he was legally required to file tax returns or file an FBAR, and so knowing, intentionally did not do so with the knowledge that he was violating the law.” Obviously, if such knowledge and intention of the defendant are proven beyond the reasonable doubt, the defendant “cannot complain that he could be convicted for actions that he did not realize were unlawful”.

Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties Based on Vagueness Versus Non-Willfulness Arguments

It is important to emphasize that the vagueness arguments contained in Mr. Little’s Motion to Dismiss FBAR Penalties can still be utilized to establish the defendant’s non-willfulness even though the Motion to Dismiss was denied. In other words, while the void-for-vagueness arguments were insufficient to challenge the criminal tax provisions, they may be important in establishing the defendant’s subjective perception of these provisions and his non-willful inability to comply with them.

I believe that the defendant’s motion in this case was destined to be denied. In reality, the defendant might have made this motion not to win, but in order to establish the base for asserting the same arguments in a different context of undermining the government’s case for willfulness. The Court itself stated that one of the Defendant’s arguments (reliance on advice received from her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs”) was in reality a potential affirmative defense to failure to file US tax returns, not an argument against the constitutionality of the laws in question.

IRS Wins Another Case Against Secret Belize Bank Accounts | FATCA Lawyers

On March 23, 2017, the IRS scored another major victory against using Belize bank accounts to hide income. On that day, Mr. Casey Padula pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax and bank fraud, including using Belize bank accounts to conceal almost $2.5 million.

Facts Concerning Using Belize Bank Accounts to Commit Tax Fraud

According to documents filed with the court, Mr. Padula was the sole shareholder of Demandblox Inc. (Demandblox), a marketing and information technology business. Mr. Padula conspired with others to move funds from Demandblox to his Belize bank accounts, disguising the transfer of funds as business expenses in Demandblox’s corporate records. At the same time, Mr. Padula created two offshore companies in Belize: Intellectual Property Partners Inc. (IPPI) and Latin American Labor Outsourcing Inc. (LALO). He opened and controlled bank accounts in the names of these entities at Heritage International Bank & Trust Limited (Heritage Bank), a financial institution located in Belize.

From 2012 through 2013, Demandblox “paid” to the bank accounts at Heritage Bank approximately $2,490,688. The transfers were recorded as intellectual property rights or royalty fees on Demandblox’s corporate books and deducted as business expenses on the company’s 2012 and 2013 corporate tax returns, causing a tax loss of more than $728,000. In reality, Mr. Padula used the funds to pay for personal expenses and purchase significant personal assets.

Furthermore, Mr. Padula also conspired with investment advisors Mr. Joshua VanDyk and Mr. Eric St-Cyr at Clover Asset Management (CAM), a Cayman Islands investment firm, to open and fund an investment account that he would control, but that would not be in his name. Heritage Bank had an account at CAM in its name and its clients could get a subaccount through Heritage Bank at CAM, which would not be in the client’s name but rather would be a numbered account. Mr. Padula transferred $1,000,080 from the IPPI bank account at Heritage Bank in Belize to CAM to fund his numbered account.

Facts Concerning Bank Fraud

In addition to committing tax fraud, Mr. Padula also conspired with others to commit bank fraud.

Mr. Padula had a mortgage on his Port Charlotte, Florida home of approximately $1.5 million with Bank of America (BoA). In 2012, he sent a letter to the bank stating that he could no longer repay his loan. At the same time, Mr. Padula provided Mr. Robert Robinson, III, who acted as a nominee buyer, with more than $625,000 from his IPPI bank account in Belize to fund a short sale of Mr. Padula’s home. Mr. Padula and Mr. Robinson signed a contract, which falsely represented that the property was sold through an “arms-length transaction,” and agreed that Padula would not be permitted to remain in the property after the sale.

In fact, Mr. Padula never moved from his home. Moreover, less than two months after the closing, Mr. Robinson conveyed it back to Mr. Padula by transferring ownership to one of Mr. Padula’s Belizean entities for $1. Mr. Robinson also pleaded guilty on March 23, 2017, to signing a false Form HUD-1 in connection with his role in the scheme.

Potential Penalties Concerning Using Belize Bank Accounts to Commit Tax Fraud

Mr. Padula faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, a term of supervised release and monetary penalties. As part of his plea agreement, Mr. Padula agreed to pay restitution to the IRS and to BoA in the amount of $728,609. Mr. Robinson faces a statutory maximum sentence of one year in prison, a term of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

Lessons of the Padula Case

The Padula Case is a classic illustration of facts that often lead to a criminal prosecution by the IRS. First, he was shifting US-source income to Belize bank accounts by creating an artificial loss between the entities that he controlled.

Second, Mr. Padula employed a sophisticated offshore corporate structure to actively attempt to conceal his ownership of his Belize bank accounts. While the guilty plea does not specifically state how the IRS first found out about Mr. Padula’s structure, it appears to me that it occurred in connection with the IRS criminal cases against Mr. VanDyk and Mr. St-Cyr.

Finally, Mr. Padula utilized Belize, a tax haven, to commit tax fraud. This is always a factor for the IRS with respect to deciding whether to commence a criminal investigation.

Additionally, the Padula Case is another confirmation there are no safe havens anymore. Especially since the implementation of FATCA, the IRS has now the capacity to trace the transfer of funds, identify the tax violations and present sufficient evidence to prosecute a criminal case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the Voluntary Disclosure of Your Belize Bank Accounts

If you have undisclosed Belize bank accounts or undisclosed offshore assets in any other foreign country, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible. If the IRS commences an investigation against you, this very fact may result in the closure of all voluntary disclosure paths currently available to you.

Sherayzen Law Office has accumulated tremendous experience in helping its clients with their Offshore Voluntary Disclosures, including Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures, Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures and Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). We can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS International Tax Campaigns | International Tax Attorney Houston

Five of the thirteen new IRS Campaigns directly target US international tax noncompliance. In this essay, I would like to provide a brief overview of these five IRS International Tax Campaigns. In the future articles, I will explain each of these campaigns in more detail.

IRS International Tax Campaigns: Background Information

After multiple years of preparation and reorganization, the IRS Large Business and International Division announced a new way to enforce US corporate and international tax laws – issue-focused IRS campaigns. An IRS campaign is basically an approach to tax enforcement which allows the IRS to allocate its scarce resources to a specific issue that the IRS believes to be a major noncompliance concern. This is very different from the previous IRS approaches which focused more on specific types of taxpayers.

On January 31, 2017, the IRS outlined the first thirteen campaigns and claimed that many more campaigns are in the process of being developed and finalized. Five of the first thirteen campaigns focus on international tax compliance issues.

IRS International Tax Campaigns: General Description

These five IRS International Tax Campaigns are: Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) Declines-Withdrawals Campaign, Repatriation Campaign, Form 1120-F Non-Filer Campaign, Inbound Distributor Campaign and Related Party Transactions Campaign.

The international focus of the OVDP, Repatriation, Form 1120-F and Inbound Distribution Campaigns is fairly obvious. The Related-Party Transactions is listed among the IRS International Tax Campaigns because of the IRS focus on the transfer of funds from a controlled foreign corporation to its related pass-through entities (US or foreign) or shareholders.

IRS International Tax Campaigns: What Taxpayers are at Risk

Among the IRS International Tax Campaigns, the OVDP Declines-Withdrawal Campaign and Form 1120-F Non-Filer Campaign can apply to small, mid-market and high net-worth taxpayers. It appears that the Inbound Distributor Campaign is likely to apply to any mid-market to large taxpayers. The rest of the IRS International Tax Campaigns, the Repatriation Campaign and the Related Party Transactions Campaign, specifically identify “mid-market taxpayers” as a targeted group. It should be stated, however, that the Repatriation Campaign will also indiscriminately target failures to state taxable transactions on US tax returns.

From the description above, it is obvious that the IRS is increasing its focus on mid-market taxpayers. Who is considered to be a “mid-market” taxpayer? The IRS defined this category during its first webinar on March 7, 2017 as taxpayers with assets between $10 million and $250 million. If you or your company fall within this category, you are at a high risk of IRS examination.

What Should Taxpayers Exposed to the IRS International Tax Campaigns Do?

If you are taxpayer with tax issues identified in the IRS International Tax Campaigns, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our team of tax professionals, headed by an international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, will: throughly analyze your case to determine if you are currently in compliance with US tax laws, determine the options for proceeding forward with bringing your tax affairs into full compliance and preparing for an issue-based examination, and implement the preferred option (including the preparation of all legal documents and tax forms).

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS Compliance Campaigns | US International Tax Attorney and Lawyer

On January 31, 2017, the IRS announced a complete new approach to tax enforcement – Issue-Focused IRS Compliance Campaigns. A total of thirteen IRS compliance campaigns were announced; all of them will be administered by the LB&I (Large Business and International) division of the IRS. Let’s explore in more detail this highly important IRS announcement.

Background Information: IRS Compliance Campaigns is the Second Phase of the LB&I Restructuring

The announcement of the IRS Compliance Campaigns does not come as a surprise. The IRS has been talking about the LB&I division restructuring for a long while and the first details of the new campaigns already appeared as early as September of 2015.

In fact, the IRS Compliance Campaigns represent the second phase of this restructuring. Already in the fall of 2015, the LB&I completed the first phase – the administrative re-organization of the LB&I into nine units, including four geographic practice areas and five issue-based practice areas.

The first phase of the LB&I reorganization focused on the administrative structure of the Division. The IRS Compliance Campaigns are meant to reorganize the Division’s tax enforcement process in a way that fits best the new administrative structure.

IRS Compliance Campaigns are Focused on Specific Tax Issues

On January 31, 2017, during a conference call announcing the new IRS Compliance Campaigns, the IRS stated that each campaign is meant to provide “a holistic response to an item of either known or potential compliance risks.” In other words, each Campaign is focused on a specific tax issue which carries a heightened noncompliance risk.

This focus on specific issues fits perfectly with the new organizational structure of the LB&I which we already discussed above. Again, this is all part of a large IRS plan to devote its scarce resources towards the areas which have significant noncompliance risk and, hence, require a more intense level of IRS scrutiny.

Issue-Focused IRS Compliance Campaigns: What Areas Will the Campaigns Affect?

As of March 21, 2017, the IRS identified thirteen such high-risk areas. A separate campaign was assigned to each of these areas. The campaigns can be grouped according to the IRS LB&I Practice Areas.

1. Cross Border Activities Practice Area

The following campaigns are included within the Cross Border Activities Practice Area of the LB&I Division: Form 1120-F Non-Filer Campaign and Repatriation Campaign.

2. Enterprise Activity Practice Area

The Enterprise Activity Practice Area of the LB&I Division contains more campaigns than any other area by a large margin. Seven different campaigns are launched within this Practice Area: IRC 48C Energy Credit; Domestic Production Activities Deduction, Multi-Channel Video Program Distributors (MVPD’s) and TV Broadcasters; Micro-Captive Insurance Campaign; Related Party Transactions; Deferred Variable Annuity Reserves & Life Insurance Reserves IIR Campaign; Basket Transactions Campaign; and Land Developers – Completed Contract Method (CCM) Campaign.

3. Pass-Through Entities Area

Two huge campaigns are launched in the Pass-Through Entities Area of the LB&I Division: TEFRA Linkage Plan Strategy Campaign and S Corporation Losses Claimed in Excess of Basis Campaign.

4. Treaty and Transfer Pricing Operations Practice Area

One campaign is launched within the Treaty and Transfer Pricing Operations Practice Area: the Inbound Distributor Campaign.

5. Withholding and International Individual Compliance Practice Area

Only one, but highly important campaign was launched within the Withholding and International Individual Compliance Practice Area – OVDP Declines-Withdrawals Campaign.

The taxpayers should remember that they may be subject to multiple IRS Compliance Campaigns at the same time.

IRS Compliance Campaigns: Treatment Streams

The goal of the campaigns is to promote tax compliance – even more fundamentally, to change the taxpayer behavior in general, replacing noncompliance with compliance.

In order to achieve this goal, the IRS may utilize a variety of “treatment streams” as part of a campaign. The first and most fundamental treatment stream is the traditional audit, which will remain the ultimate weapon in all IRS Compliance Campaigns.

Second, the IRS stated that it will also include “soft letters” to taxpayers. The idea behind the soft letters is to draw a taxpayer’s attention to a particular item or issue on the taxpayer’s return, explain the IRS position and give the taxpayer an opportunity to amend his return himself (i.e. without resorting to an audit). If the taxpayer does not do so after he receives the IRS letter, an audit will most likely follow.

Additionally, the IRS stated that it will pursue four additional strategies: guidance, new forms and instructions, published practice units, and practitioner and stakeholder outreach.

More IRS Compliance Campaigns Will Be Launched in the Future

The IRS has affirmatively stated that the number of the IRS Compliance Campaigns will increase in the future. At this point, it is not yet known what particular areas the new Campaigns will affect.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help If You Are Affected by One or More of the IRS Compliance Campaigns

If you are affected by any of the IRS campaigns or you have received a soft letter from the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our team of tax professionals, headed by Attorney Eugene Sherayzen, will thoroughly analyze your case, create a plan to move forward to resolve the situation, implement the plan and defend your position against the IRS.

The IRS Large Business and International Division Organizational Structure

Almost two years ago, the IRS Large Business and International Division announced long-term changes in its structure as well as its approach to tax enforcement. In the fall of 2015, the IRS completed the first phase of the structural changes in the Division – re-organization of its administrative structure. This structure exists intact today and we fully expect for it to last for a long while. Let’s discuss this current administrative structure of the IRS Large Business and International Division.

IRS Large Business and International Division: Areas of Responsibility

The IRS Large Business and International Division forms a huge part of the IRS. First, it is responsible for the tax compliance enforcement (US domestic and US international) with respect to all corporations, subchapter S corporations, and partnerships with assets greater than $10 million. Most of these businesses employ a large number of employees and their business affairs involve complex accounting principals and tax laws. Second, the Division deals with individual international tax compliance, including offshore voluntary disclosures.

Current Organization of the IRS Large Business and International Division

The IRS Large Business and International Division is currently organized into Support Areas (a smaller part of the Division) and Practice Areas.

The Support areas concentrate on supporting the Practice Areas through data analysis and integrated feedback loop (which is a highly important feature that was incorporated into the Division’s reorganization plan in 2015). The Support areas include Headquarters, Program and Business Solutions (including Technology and Program Solutions and Resource Solutions), Compliance Integration (including Data solutions and the highly-important Compliance Planning and Analytics) and Assistant Deputy Commissioner – International.

The second part of the IRS Large Business and International Division is divided into five Practice Areas and four Compliance Practice Areas. The Practice Areas include: (1) Cross Border Activities, (2) Enterprise Activity, (3) Pass-Through Entities, (4) Treaty and Transfer Pricing Operations and (5) Withholding and International Individual Compliance. US international tax compliance concerns are especially important in areas 1, 4 and 5.

The Compliance Practice Areas basically represent a geographical division of the United States into four tax enforcement areas: Central (which consists of North Central and South Central Fields), Eastern (which consists of Great Lakes and Southeast Fields), Northeastern (which includes North-Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic Fields) and, finally, Western (which includes West and Southwest Fields).

The IRS Large Business and International Division Reorganization Now Entered Into the Second Phase

Since January 31, 2017, the IRS Large Business and International Division reorganization commenced the second phase with the enaction of the first thirteen issue-based IRS Compliance Campaigns. These campaigns represent a new approach to tax enforcement that is believed to fit best the new administrative structure of the division. In the near future, Sherayzen Law Office will update its website with articles dedicated to this important new development.