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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 FBAR Audits Caused by Tax Returns | FBAR Audit Lawyer

IRS FBAR Audits can lead to catastrophic consequences for noncompliant US taxpayers. While there may be a numbers of factors that influence the IRS decision to commence such an audit, one of the leading sources of the IRS FBAR Audits are the US tax returns. In this article, I would like to explore the main types of documents that the IRS is searching for during a tax return examination in order to uncover the information that may lead to the commencement of IRS FBAR Audits (I will not discuss here the right of the IRS to disclose US tax return information for Title 31 FBAR Audit; this topic is reserved for a subsequent article).

IRS FBAR Audits and IRS Title 26 Examinations

From the outset, it should be made clear that filing of US tax returns does not automatically lead to IRS FBAR Audits. Rather, a great percentage of the IRS FBAR Audits arise from the IRS Title 26 Examinations of these returns– i.e. IRS examinations and audits of US tax returns pursuant to the various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. During these examinations, the IRS analyzes the audited tax returns and may uncover information related to FBAR non-compliance which usually serves as a cause of the subsequent FBAR audit.

Tax Return Information that May Trigger IRS FBAR Audits

So, what kind of evidence is the IRS looking for that may trigger IRS FBAR audits? First and most logical is Schedule B, particularly looking at whether box in Part III (which has questions related to foreign accounts and foreign trusts) is checked. If there is a discrepancy between the information provided to the IRS and Schedule B, this may lead to IRS FBAR Audits.

Second, foreign income documents from the tax examination administrative case file (which includes the Revenue Agent Reports). Here, the IRS is looking for income related to foreign bank and financial accounts that was not reported. A combination of unreported foreign income and undisclosed foreign accounts is precisely the toxic mix that lays the foundation for IRS FBAR Audits.

Third (and this is a very interesting strategy), copies of tax returns for at least three years before the opening of the offshore account and for all years after the account was opened, to show if a significant drop in reportable income occurred after the account was opened. The analysis of the returns for three years before the opening of the account would give the examiner a better idea of what the taxpayer might have typically reported as income before the foreign account was opened. This strategy shows just how analytical and creative the IRS can be in looking for cases that should be subject to IRS FBAR Audits.

Fourth, copies of any prior Revenue Agent Reports that may show a history of noncompliance. This strategy confirms once again the notion that a large history of noncompliance may lead to more frequent IRS examinations, including IRS FBAR Audits.

Fifth, IRS is also looking into “cash accounting’ – two sets of cash T accounts (a reconciliation of the taxpayer’s sources and uses of funds) with one set showing any unreported income in foreign accounts that was identified during the examination and the second set excluding the unreported income in foreign accounts.

Finally, the IRS makes a connection between tax fraud and FBAR noncompliance – the IRS is looking at any documents that would support fraud in commencing IRS FBAR Audits. Such documents include: false explanations regarding understated or omitted income, large discrepancies between actual and reported deductions of income, concealment of income sources, numerous errors which are all in the taxpayer’s favor, fictitious records or other deceptions, large omissions of certain types of income (personal service income, specific items of income, gambling winnings, or illegal income), false deductions, false exemptions, false credits, failure to keep or furnish records, incomplete information given to the return preparer regarding a fraudulent scheme, large and frequent cash dealings that may or may not be common to the taxpayer’s business, and verbal misrepresentations of the facts and circumstances.

Of course, the IRS is not limited to these six types of tax return documents; however, this is the most common evidence that the IRS uncovers during a tax return examination that may lead to subsequent IRS FBAR Audits.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with IRS FBAR Audits

If you are subject to an IRS FBAR Audit or a tax return examination that involves foreign assets and foreign income, or you have undisclosed foreign assets and you are looking for a way to bring your legal situation into compliance with US tax laws, then you should contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC. Sherayzen Law Office is one of the best law firms in the world dedicated to helping US taxpayers with foreign assets and foreign income. Our highly experienced team of tax professionals, headed by an international tax attorney Eugene Sherayzen, provides effective, knowledgeable and reliable legal and tax help to its clients throughout the world, and we can help you deal with any IRS problem.

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