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The Norman Case: Willful FBAR Penalty Upheld | FBAR Lawyers Miami

On November 8, 2019, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) upheld the decision of the Court of Federal Claims to uphold the IRS assessment of a willful FBAR penalty in the amount of $803,530 with respect to Ms. Mindy Norman’s failure to file her 2007 FBAR. The Norman case deserves special attention because of its facts and circumstances and how the Court interpreted them to uphold the willful FBAR penalty.

The Norman Case: Facts of the Case

Ms. Norman is a school teacher. In 1999, she opened a bank account with UBS bank in Switzerland. It was a “numbered account” – i.e. income and asset statements referred to the account number only; Ms. Norman’s name and address did not appear anywhere on the account statements. Between 2001 and 2008, the highest balance of the account ranged between about $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The Court described how Ms. Norman was actively engaged in managing and controlling her account. She had frequent contacts with her UBS banker in person and over the phone; she decided how to invest her funds and she signed a request with UBS to prohibit investment in US securities on her behalf (which could have triggered a disclosure of the existence of the account to the IRS). In 2002, she withdrew between $10,000 and $100,000 in cash from the account. In 2008 she closed the account when UBS informed her that it would cooperate with the IRS in identifying noncompliant US taxpayers who engaged in tax fraud; it should also be noted that the IRS presented into evidence UBS client contact records which stated that Ms. Norman exhibited “surprise and displeasure” when she was informed about the UBS decision.

Sometime in the year 2008, Ms. Norman signed her 2007 US tax return which, it appears, contained a Schedule B which stated (in Part III) that she had no foreign accounts. Moreover, she signed this return after her accountant sent her a questionnaire with a question concerning foreign accounts.

Also in 2008, Ms. Norman obtained a referral to an accountant. It appears that the accountant advised her to do a quiet disclosure, filing her amended returns and late FBARs. The quiet disclosure triggered the subsequent IRS audit.

The Court found that, during the audit interview, Ms. Norman made numerous false statements, including denying the knowledge of the existence of her foreign account prior to 2009. She also submitted a letter to the IRS re-affirming her lack of knowledge about the existence of this account.

Then, after retaining an attorney, Ms. Norman completely reversed herself in her second letter, stating that she did in fact know about the existence of the account. She further explained that her failure to timely file her FBARs occurred due to her belief that none of the funds in the account were hers and she was not a de-facto owner of the account.

The Norman Case: Penalty Imposition and the Appeals

It appears that the false statements and radical shifts in claims about what she knew about her account completely damaged her credibility with the IRS agent in charge of the audit. Hence, the IRS found that Ms. Norman willfully failed to file her FBAR and assessed a penalty of $803,530.

Ms. Norman paid the penalty in full and filed a complaint with the Court of Federal Claims requesting a refund. The Court of Federal Claims sustained the penalty; hence, Ms. Norman appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court upheld the penalty imposition.

The Norman Case: Issues on the Appeal

Ms. Norman raised three issues on the appeal: (1) the Court of Federal Claims erred in finding that she willfully violated the FBAR requirement; (2) a 1987 Treasury regulation limits the FBAR willful penalty to $100,000; and (3) a penalty so high violates the 8th Amendment. The Court did not consider the 8th Amendment argument for procedural reasons.

The Norman Case: Recklessness as part of Willfulness

At the heart of the dispute over the imposition of the willful penalty was whether the IRS can use recklessness in its determination of willfulness. It is important to point out here that the IRS imposed the willful penalty even though it could not prove that Ms. Norman actually knew about the existence of FBAR. Rather, it relied on recklessness in its imposition of the willful FBAR penalty.

In the appeal, Ms. Norman argued that one can only violate the FBAR requirement if one has the actual knowledge of the existence of the form. She adopted a strict interpretation of willfulness as the one found in the Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”): “willfulness is shown by the person’s knowledge of the reporting requirements and the person’s conscious choice not to comply with the requirements.”

The Court, however, did not agree with this interpretation. First of all, it pointed to the well-established law that the IRM is not binding in courts. The courts in several circuits have determined that recklessness should be considered as willfulness. Second, the IRM itself stated that actual knowledge of FBAR is not required for the imposition of a willful penalty. Rather, the IRM allowed for the possibility of the imposition of a willful penalty where the failure to learn about FBAR is combined with other factors, such as attempts to conceal the existence of the account and the amounts involved.

Then, the Court explained its reasoning for believing that Ms. Norman’s behavior was reckless: she opened the foreign account, actively managed it, withdrew money from it and failed to declare it on her signed 2007 tax return. The fact that Ms. Norman made contradictory and false statements to the IRS during the audit further damaged her credibility with respect to her non-willfulness claims.

The Norman Case: 1987 Treasury Regulation No Longer Valid

Ms. Norman also argued that a 1987 regulation limited the willful FBAR penalty to $100,000. The Court disagreed, because this regulation was rendered invalid by the language found in the 2004 amendment to 31 U.S.C. §5321(a)(5)(C).

The Norman Case: Most Important Lessons for Audited US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

The Norman case contains many important lessons for US taxpayers who have undisclosed foreign accounts and who are audited by the IRS. Let’s concentrate on the three most important ones.

First and foremost, do not lie to the IRS; lying to the IRS is almost certain to backfire. In the Norman case, the taxpayer had good facts on her side at the beginning, but her actions during the audit made them almost irrelevant. Ms. Norman’s false statements damaged her credibility not only with the IRS, but also with the courts. It made her appear as a person undeserving of sympathy; someone who deserved to be punished by the IRS.

Second, Ms. Norman fell prey to an incorrect advice from her accountant and did a quiet disclosure. Given how dangerous her situation was as a result of an impending disclosure of her foreign account by UBS, doing a quiet disclosure in 2008 was a mistake. Instead, a full open voluntary disclosure should have been done either through the traditional IRS voluntary disclosure option or a noisy disclosure (unfortunately, the 2009 OVDP was not yet an option in 2008).

Finally, the Norman case highlights the importance of having the appropriate professional counsel. During her quiet disclosure and the subsequent IRS audit Ms. Norman did not hire the right professional to assist her until it was too late – the damage to the case became irreversible. Instead of retaining the right international tax attorney, she chose to rely on an accountant. In the context of an offshore voluntary disclosure and especially an IRS audit involving offshore assets, relying on an accountant is almost always a mistake – only an experienced international tax attorney is right choice.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your US Tax Compliance and an IRS Audit Concerning Foreign Accounts and Foreign Income

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and you wish to resolve your US tax noncompliance before the IRS finds you, you need to secure competent legal help. If you are already subject to an IRS audit, then you need to retain an international tax attorney as soon as you receive the initial audit letter. As stated above, Ms. Norman paid a very high price for a failure to do so timely; you should avoid making this mistake.

For this reason, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our team of tax professionals headed by the highly experienced international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their prior US tax noncompliance issues and successfully conclude IRS international tax audits. We Can Help You!

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Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Face Potential IRS Audit | FBAR News

On May 15, 2019, a Texas federal court ruled that the IRS can enforce John Doe summons for client information from Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm because the firm failed to demonstrate that the attorney-client privilege protected this information. This is bad news for Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm clients who now may have to face a potential IRS audit.

How and Why Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Face IRS Pressure

This entire affair arose as a result of an IRS audit of an unnamed client of Taylor Lohmeyer law firm. During the audit, the IRS determined that this client owed more than $2 million in taxes with respect to about $5 million of undisclosed foreign income.

Moreover, the IRS agent who conducted the audit discovered that the taxpayer received an advice from Taylor Lohmeyer law firm with respect to evasion of US taxes on his foreign income. It appears that the IRS agent also received additional information confirming the involvement of the firm in illegal tax-avoidance schemes from a former partner of the firm.

As a result, the IRS agent was able to build the case that Taylor Lohmeyer law firm helped its clients build offshore trust structures and beneficial ownership schemes for the purpose of evading US taxes. The IRS then made the logical conclusion that other Taylor Lohmeyer law firm clients may have used the firm to hide their taxable income in foreign jurisdictions through foreign bank accounts and foreign entities.

Why the Court Approved the John Doe Summons for the Identities of Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients

Based on this information, the court ruled that the government had sufficient evidence to establish that the summons was made with the legitimate purpose of combating tax evasion. The court also said that the burden to show the government made a wrongful summons was on the Taylor Lohmeyer law firm, and the firm failed to satisfy its burden of proof.

It was not just the IRS work that convinced the court to approve the IRS summons for the names of the Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm clients. Rather, it appears that the firm was overly confident and did not properly assert the attorney-client privilege to protect its clients. The court specifically objected to what it believed to be a “blanket assertions of privilege” for the firm’s clients. It wanted the firm to establish that the attorney-client privilege applied to each specific client and each specific document.

Will There Be an Appeal?

It is not clear if the firm will appeal the court’s decision, but it appears that such an appeal would be the least that the firm can do to protect its clients. From a broader perspective, it would be too dangerous to let the IRS further chip away at the attorney-client privilege.

What Should Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Do?

The clients of the firm should not simply wait for what happens next in this case, whether the firm will appeal the decision or simply disclose their names. They are right now in a very dangerous situation and should immediately explore their voluntary disclosure options to limit their exposure to IRS criminal penalties, including FBAR criminal penalties. Moreover, a voluntary disclosure may allow them to reduce their exposure to civil penalties.

They must also prepare for the possibility that they may not be able to do a classic voluntary disclosure and prepare for an IRS audit. Even in a willful situation, it may be possible to significantly reduce the exposure to FBAR and other IRS penalties if the case is handled correctly.

In other words, whether their earlier noncompliance was willful or non-willful, the clients of this law firm should immediately contact an international tax attorney who specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS audits.

Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Should Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Their Offshore Voluntary Disclosures and IRS Audits

If you are a client of Taylor Lohmeyer law firm, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional advice with respect to your offshore voluntary disclosure options and IRS audit preparation. Sherayzen Law Office is a highly-experienced international tax law firm with respect to both of these subjects.

Our founder is an international tax attorney who possesses deep knowledge and understanding of US international tax law and its application in the context of an IRS audit and offshore voluntary disclosures. In fact, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws through an offshore voluntary disclosure. Moreover, he has handled a great variety of IRS audits, including audits of undisclosed offshore assets.

Contact Mr. Sherayzen Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2019 IRS Hiring Spree Targets US International Tax Compliance

On May 11, 2019, the IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated that the IRS is rapidly increasing the number of agents in certain divisions. US international tax compliance is the primary target of this 2019 IRS hiring spree.

2019 IRS Hiring Spree: Affected IRS Divisions

The Commissioner announced this news while speaking at the American Bar Association’s Section of Taxation conference in Washington, D.C. He stated that the Large Business and International (“LB&I), Small Business/Self-Employed (“SB/SE”) and Criminal Investigation (“CI”) divisions are the ones that form the core of the 2019 IRS hiring spree. Additionally, the Office of Chief Counsel and the Modernization and Information Technology Division are also beefing up their staff.

2019 IRS Hiring Spree: Why the IRS is Hiring New Agents

The Commissioner expressly mentioned two reasons for the 2019 IRS hiring spree – reducing the tax gap and assuring international compliance. Interestingly, he also mentioned that he will not allow the illegal tax shelter scandals, like the ones that happened in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, to happen on his watch.

The Commissioner went on to identify certain problematic areas where he wants the new hires to focus. He specifically listed: digital economy, transfer pricing, syndicated conservation easements, employment tax and cash-intensive businesses.

Finally, the Commissioner stated that he wants to expand the IRS message to the taxpayers who speak English as a second language. He said: “I’m from Los Angeles. In the grocery store in line there are more than six languages being spoken. This is 2019. We need to have our information available to every American trying to get it right.” He also shared that he was surprised when he found out that the IRS printed tax returns in only six languages.

The Commissioner emphasized that the IRS should not just print the returns in more languages, but also to provide IRS guidance in more languages. Also, he stated that the quality of translation services can be further improved. Undoubtedly, this will be the job of some of the new hires.

2019 IRS Hiring Spree: Consequences for Noncompliant Taxpayers with Foreign Assets and Foreign Income

The new IRS hiring spree means that there will be more audits and investigations of noncompliant taxpayers, including those who own foreign assets and receive foreign income. The fact that the Commissioner specifically mentioned illegal tax shelters and international tax compliance is a direct confirmation that taxpayers with offshore assets will soon be at an even higher risk of the IRS discovery of their tax noncompliance.

Furthermore, with more agents available, the IRS can expand the scope of its international tax audits. We can anticipate that there will be more audits with respect to Forms 3520/3520A (owners and beneficiaries of foreign trusts), 5471 (owners of a foreign corporation), 8621 (PFICs) and 8865 (owners of an ownership interest in a foreign partnership).

The IRS will also able to better utilize the piles of data it receives from foreign financial institutions under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) and bilateral automatic information exchange treaties. In other words, the IRS will be able to identify more noncompliant taxpayers.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Undisclosed Foreign Assets and Foreign Income

If you have undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income, you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Within just a few months, the IRS ability to locate you will expand much further than ever. If the IRS audits you or even just commences an investigation of your foreign assets, you may not be able to utilize the offshore voluntary disclosure options to reduce your FBAR and other IRS penalties.

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Streamlined Submission Audit | SDOP Audit Tax Lawyer

An increasing number of submissions under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are subject to an IRS audit (hereinafter “Streamlined Submission Audit”). In this article, I will explain what a Streamlined Submission Audit is and what a taxpayer should expect during the Audit.

Streamlined Submission Audit: Background Information on Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is a voluntary disclosure option offered by the IRS since June of 2014 to noncompliant US taxpayers to settle their past tax noncompliance concerning foreign assets and foreign income at a reduced penalty rate. In order to participate in SDOP, a taxpayer must meet three main eligibility requirements – US tax residency, non-willfulness of prior noncompliance and absence of IRS examination.

SDOP is likely to be the most convenient and the least expensive voluntary disclosure option for taxpayers whose prior tax noncompliance was non-willful. SDOP is very popular; in fact, it has quickly surpassed the traditional IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) in the number of participants with over 18,000 submissions just in 2016.

The Origin of the Streamlined Submission Audit

Streamlined Submission Audit originates within the very nature of SDOP. Unlike OVDP, SDOP voluntary disclosures are not immediately subject to a comprehensive IRS review of tax return items (although, there is a review process which may lead to a Streamlined Submission Audit, but it is not as comprehensive as that of the OVDP prior to the Audit). Hence, the IRS reserved the right to audit any SDOP submission at any point within three years after the submission of the original SDOP voluntary disclosure package.

Streamlined Submission Audit: Process

The exact process of a Streamlined Submission Audit varies from case to case, but all of such audits have a similar format: initial letter with request for a meeting, meeting with an interview, review of submitted documents and (very likely) additional requests for information, interview of other involved individuals (such as a tax preparer) and, finally, the results of an audit are provided by the IRS to taxpayer(s) and/or the representative indicated on Form 2848.

A Streamlined Submission Audit commences in a way very similar to a regular IRS audit: a letter is sent to taxpayers and (if there is a Form 2848 on file) to their representative. The letter explains that the IRS decided to examine certain tax returns (usually all three years of amended tax returns) and asks for submission of all documentation and work papers that were used to prepare the amended returns. Additionally, the letter requests that the taxpayers’ representative (or taxpayers if not represented) contact the IRS agent in charge of the audit to schedule the initial meeting.

During the initial meeting, the IRS agent will review (at least to make sure he or she has what is needed) the documents supplied. In larger cases, the IRS will need a lot more time to later examine all of the submitted documents and see if additional documents are needed. If a case is very small, it is possible for an agent to cover everything in the first meeting, but it is very rare.

Also, during an initial meeting, there is going to be an interview of the taxpayer(s). I will discuss the interview separately in a different article.

Once the review of the initial package of documents is concluded, it is very likely that the IRS agent will have questions and additional document requests. The questions may be answered by the taxpayers’ attorney during a separate meeting with the agent; smaller questions may be settled over the phone.

If additional documentation is needed, an IRS agent will send out an additional request to taxpayers and/or their attorney. The answer will most likely need to be provided in writing.

Once the IRS completes its interview of other involved parties and reviews all evidence, it will make its decision and submit the results of the audit to the taxpayers and their tax attorney in writing. The taxpayers’ attorney will need to build a strategy with respect to the taxpayers’ response to the audit results depending on whether the taxpayers agree or disagree with the results of the audit.

Differences Between Streamlined Submission Audit and Regular IRS Audit

At first, it may seem that there are no big differences between a regular IRS audit and a Streamlined Submission Audit. While procedurally this may be correct, substantively it is not.

The greatest difference between the two types of IRS audits is the subject-matter involved. While a regular IRS audit will concentrate on the tax returns only, a Streamlined Submission Audit will involve everything: amended tax returns, FBARs, other information returns and, most importantly, Non-Willfulness Certification. In other words, a Streamlined Submission Audit will focus not only on whether the tax forms are correct, but also on whether the taxpayer was actually non-willful with respect to his prior tax noncompliance.

This difference in the subject-matter examination will carry over to other aspects of a Streamlined Submission Audit: the taxpayers’ interview will focus on their non-willfulness arguments, third-party interviews of original tax preparers become a regular feature (this is very different from a regular IRS audit when tax preparers may never be interviewed), and the final IRS results must necessarily make a decision on whether to challenge the taxpayers’ non-willfulness arguments.

Failure by a taxpayer to sustain his non-willfulness arguments may result in a disaster during a Streamlined Submission Audit with a potential referral to the Tax Division of the US Department of Justice for a criminal investigation.

This is why it is so important for a taxpayer subject to a Streamlined Submission Audit to retain the services of an experienced international tax lawyer to handle the audit professionally.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With A Streamlined Submission Audit

If your submission under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is being audited by the IRS, you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our international tax law firm is highly experienced in offshore voluntary disclosures (including OVDP (now closed), SDOP, SFOP, “noisy disclosures”, “quiet disclosures”, et cetera) and the IRS audits of a voluntary disclosure.
In fact, we have handled voluntary disclosure cases at every stage of the process of a Streamlined Submission Audit described above. We can Help You!

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2018 FBAR Audits Set to Increase | IRS FBAR Audit Lawyer & Attorney

2018 FBAR audits are set to increase at a dramatic pace. In this article, I would like to discuss what the FBAR audits are and why 2017-2018 will be the period of time when we believe that the FBAR audits will gain as a percentage of the overall IRS audits compared to earlier years.

2018 FBAR Audits and Sherayzen Law Office Predictions

As early as 2011, Sherayzen Law Office predicted that the FBAR audits would become more commonplace than ever a few years after FATCA was implemented. Once FATCA was implemented in July of 2014, we confirmed our prediction and refined it to specifically identify 2017 and 2018 FBAR audits as the years of larger than average increases. Obviously, the increase in FBAR audits will go hand in hand with the jump in FBAR litigation by the US Department of Justice.

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2018 FBAR Audits: How Do FBAR Audits Differ from Regular IRS Audits?

The public is generally familiar to a certain degree with regular IRS Audits of US tax returns. In general, in a regular audit, the IRS contacts the taxpayer or his representative and conducts a thorough review of the taxpayer’s tax returns selected for examination.

So, are FBAR Audits different from the regular US tax return audits? The answer is: “yes” and “no”. In terms of the actual procedure (i.e. the IRS contacting the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s representative and doing a thorough examination), there are no large differences, though, the fact that FBARs come under Title 31 does affect certain procedures.

However, in terms of issues involved, the FBAR audits can be vastly different, because they would involve not only the issues that are a concern during a regular IRS audit of a tax return, but also FBAR-specific issues. In other words, the FBAR audit will likely involve all of the features of the audit concerning US tax returns (especially, with respect to verification that all foreign income was properly disclosed) and FBAR -specific issues concerning the accuracy of the reported foreign account and foreign income information.

Moreover, it should be remembered that FBAR has a draconian penalty system. Hence, the stakes in the FBAR audit are much higher than those of a regular IRS audit.

Finally, FBAR audits may often lead to FATCA compliance issues, particularly Form 8938 compliance. FBAR audits may also trigger the audit of other information returns, including Form 3520 with respect to foreign gifts and inheritance.

Thus, while FBAR audits may seem procedurally similar to regular IRS audits (though, as I had pointed out above, this similarity is superficial to a large degree), the scope of the FBAR audit, the issues involved, the “expansion” effect and the stakes involved (in terms of potential penalties) make FBAR audits far more dangerous to US taxpayers than regular IRS audits of US tax returns.

Why Should We Expect to See An Increase in 2017 and 2018 FBAR Audits?

The increase in 2017 and 2018 FBAR audits is driven primarily by FATCA and other automatic information exchange mechanisms (including those provided for in bilateral treaties). Since the UBS case in 2008, the IRS has seen a steady increase of data inflow from overseas concerning foreign accounts owned and/or controlled by US taxpayers.

This stream of data became a torrential river after the implementation of FATCA in 2014 and the increase in the bilateral and multilateral automatic information exchange mechanisms since 2011. In fact, the IRS has received so much data that it has not even been able to properly process and organize it yet.

However, even with the small percentage of the data that was actually properly processed, the IRS received a treasure trove of information concerning unreported foreign accounts and noncompliant US taxpayers. This new data has already led to a steady increase of IRS investigations during the years 2015-2016. Given the fact that a much larger amount of data will be processed in 2017 and 2018, the number of IRS investigations and FBAR audits should increase dramatically in 2017-2019.

An indirect confirmation of this conclusion is the recent surge in the US Department of Justice FBAR litigation. We fully expect the FBAR audits to follow the same path of intensification in 2017-2019.

What Should You Do If the IRS Selects You for FBAR Audit?

If the IRS contacts you concerning examination of your FBARs or your US tax returns with Forms 8938 and/or foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our firm specializes in helping taxpayers like you with the IRS audits of any US international information returns, including FBARs and Forms 8938.

The owner of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, is an international tax attorney with an almost unique experience of helping US taxpayers at all stages of US international tax compliance: annual compliance, offshore voluntary disclosures, FBAR Audits and FBAR litigation in federal courts. This experience has allowed Mr. Sherayzen to have a unique perspective on FBAR Audits which allows him to be a highly effective advocate of his clients’ positions before the IRS.

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