Criminal Tax Evasion

This article provides some general background to IRC Section 7201 criminal tax evasion charges and describes Section 7201 principal criminal penalties.   As you will see, the penalties are severe, and you should immediately seek the advice of a tax attorney if you have any doubts as to whether you are complying with the law and IRS rules.

Legal Test under IRC Section 7201

IRC Section 7201 deals with criminal tax evasion charges.  In Sansone v. United States, 380 U.S. 343, 354 (1965), the United States Supreme Court stated that two different charges can be brought pursuant to Section 7201: (1) the offense of willfully attempting to evade or defeat the assessment of a tax, and (2) the offense of willfully attempting to evade or defeat the payment of a tax.

The legal test that the government must satisfy consists of three elements:(1) that a tax deficiency existed, (2) an affirmative act of tax evasion, or an attempt to evade taxes, and (3), willfulness. The government is required to prove each of three elements beyond a reasonable doubt – the standard of proof in criminal cases – in order to show a violation of this section. By contrast, in a typical civil case, the standard of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence.

In general, the courts have held that filing a false return may demonstrate an attempt to evade the assessment of a tax, but it is not necessary for an individual to have filed a false return in order to show an attempt of tax evasion.  Certain courts have also held that it is not required for the government to prove the exact amount of tax due in order to show tax evasion.

Each of the elements necessary to prove a violation may involve complex factual matters and/or legal arguments, so you may be well advised to seek an experienced tax attorney if you find yourself in such a case.

Penalties under IRC Section 7201

Under IRC Section 7201, “Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed by this title or the payment thereof shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.”

Thus, the criminal penalties under Section 7201 may consist of two parts.  First and foremost, imprisonment of up to five years (this charge may have its complications when combined wiht other penalties – therefore, the particular facts of your case will determine whether you potentially face more than five years in prison).  Second, the monetary penalty of up to $100,000 if the defendant is an individual or up to $500,000 if the defendant is a corporation.  The statute allows for the combination of both types of penalties in a single case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help in Dealing with Section 7201 Charges

If you are or may potentially be in a situations where the U.S. government may charge you with criminal tax evasion offenses, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help.  Our experienced tax firm will analyze your case, help you determine whether you may potentially face criminal charges (if you not yet charged), determine the probability of a successful criminal prosecution by the U.S. government, build a creative ethical defense (while considering other possibilities to turn this into a civil case), and rigorously represent your interests in court and during negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice or IRS.

Obtaining Private Letter Rulings

At certain times, tax planning may involve taking a position on a tax return that is uncertain, or even controversial. If the position involves a potentially large liability, taxpayers may be left with the undesirable choices of either taking a risk in reporting the position or deciding not to and paying a much larger tax.

Thankfully, in some instances, the IRS allows for a way to receive clarification on a specific tax position for individual taxpayers, called Private Letter Rulings. The basic mechanism of obtaining a Private Letter Ruling is the essence of this essay.

Private Letter Rulings are issued by the National Office of the IRS upon request by individual taxpayers. Basically, Private Letter Rulings state how a specified tax position will be treated by the IRS if it is taken on a tax return. Hence, this process is one of the best ways to ensure proper, safe tax planning on otherwise potentially risky positions. The IRS will only issue letter rulings based upon actual transactions (even if they have not been completed yet); mere hypothetical scenarios will not qualify. While the IRS is not legally bound by letter rulings, in general, it has honored the determinations made to specific taxpayers.

A Private Letter Ruling that is issued to an individual taxpayer must be attached to the tax return filed for the year that the position in question is reported. In certain circumstances, the IRS may issue subsequent determinations to other taxpayers, based upon almost the same set of facts, that seem to contradict the earlier letter ruling. Generally, in such cases, the new ruling will not be applied retroactively to the original taxpayer who requested a letter ruling.

Furthermore, the IRS is required to make Private Letter Rulings available for the general public, with identifying individual details removed. In most cases, a Private Letter Ruling only applies to the individual taxpayer who request it. For the purposes of avoiding accuracy-related penalties, however, Private Letter Rulings issued after 1984 may be used as substantial authority by other non-requesting taxpayers.

Because a letter ruling represents the current IRS view of a tax issue, letter rulings may be superseded by new case law. Keep in mind, however, that there are limitations with respect to the IRS revocation or modification of a letter ruling sent to an individual taxpayer.

Of course, as most things in life, the benefits of a Private Letter Ruling come with certain costs. There is a fairly steep fee charged by the IRS for making a request. In addition, the legal fees involved in obtaining a Private Letter Ruling are often comparable to an administrative appeal or an arbitration case (depending on the complexity of your case). Also, there are certain prescribed areas of the law that the IRS will not rule on for Private Letter Purposes. The same applies to requests that involve only issues of fact. In fact, the complexity of obtaining the Private Ruling is such that your best course of action is to retain a tax attorney if you seek to minimize your potential tax liability and audit risk by requesting a letter ruling.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office For Help In Obtaining a Private Letter Ruling

Obtaining a Private Letter Ruling usually involves complex issues, and this articles only provides a very general background information that should not be relied upon in making the determination of your specific situation. Rather, if you would like to consider obtaining a Private Letter Ruling from the IRS, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help. Our experienced tax firm will help you determine whether your case qualifies for a Private Letter Ruling, whether this is the best course of action available, and provide rigorous, ethical and affordable IRS representation.

Case Note: Weller v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

This brief case note describes one of the recent cases of the U.S. tax court.  This description is not a legal advice and may not be relied upon as such.

On September 20, 2011, the tax court ruled in favor of the taxpayer and found that he engaged in his business activities for profit (see Weller v. Comm’r, T.C.M. 2011-224 (T.C. 09/20/11)).

The main issue in this case was whether the taxpayer engaged in his glider plane-related activities during the years in issue with the objective of making a profit within the meaning of section 183.  After being laid off from Boeing in 2002, the taxpayer decided to start a business where he would off high-performance glider training.  On August 1, 2003, petitioner formed Northwest Eagle Soaring, L.L.C. (“Northwest”), in Washington. Northwest provides private glider flight instruction and glider plane rides. The taxpayer did not prepare a business plan for Northwest.

The taxpayer is licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a Certified Flight Instructor Airplane, Certified Flight Instructor Instruments, and Certified Flight Instructor Glider. Petitioner performed flight instruction for the Boeing Employees Soaring Club.

In late 2003, the taxpayer used money he inherited to complete his purchase of a DG-1000 high-performance glider plane for $180,000, and he placed it in service on November 22, 2003. Northwest conducts its activities primarily on weekends from March through November. Glider flights are restricted to times of good visibility. For business promotion, Northwest maintains a Web site, distributes marketing flyers to locations such as airports and aviation-related businesses, and advertises in a flying publication. The taxpayer  maintained flight logs for the glider activities as required by the FAA.

In 2004, the taxpayer focused his time on the Northwest activities and did not have other employment.  For the years 2005-2007, he worked for other companies, but still deducted unreimbursed employee expenses related to Northwest.

The IRS audited the tax returns for the years 2005-2007 and found that the taxpayer did not have a profit-making objective (i.e. that his Northwest activities were just a hobby).

The tax court disagreed. After finding that the taxpayer’s subjective intent to make profit is the focus of the test, the court looked in detail at the factors provided by the IRS regulations to determine such intent (Section 1.183-2(b)).   There were nine relevant factors: (1) The manner in which the taxpayer carried on the activity; (2) the expertise of the taxpayer or his advisers; (3) the time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity; (4) the expectation that the assets used in the activity may appreciate in value; (5) the success of the taxpayer in carrying on other activities for profit; (6) the taxpayer’s history of income or losses with respect to the activity; (7) the amount of occasional profits, if any, that are earned from the activity; (8) the financial status of the taxpayer; and (9) whether elements of personal pleasure or recreation are involved in the activity.

Upon careful application of the facts to these nine factors, the court found that the taxpayer engaged in the glider activities with the primary purpose and intent of realizing an economic profit independent of tax savings during the years in issue.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office For Tax Court Representation

If you disagree with the IRS determination in your case and wish to challenge it the Tax Court, contact Sherayzen Law Office for diligent, zealous, and affordable tax court representation.

Federal Income Tax Litigation: the Basics

When taxpayers file their income tax returns, a determination of tax is made. The IRS must then “assess” a tax liability in order to collect the amount owed. Generally, the period for assessment is three years from the due date, or from the date the return is filed, whichever is later (see this article for more details on the IRS statute of limitations).

If the IRS questions a tax return, it may then begin the audit process. The IRS may conduct its audit at the taxpayer’s place of business (“field audit”), in IRS offices (“office audit”), or by correspondence. If the IRS agent then determines after the audit that a tax deficiency exists but the taxpayer does not agree, the revenue agent will then send the taxpayer an examination report called, “Revenue Agent’s Report” along with a letter termed a, “30-day letter”. The 30-day letter details various information and informs the taxpayer that he/she has a right to request a hearing with the IRS Appeals Division within 30 days.

At this point, the taxpayer has three options: (1) accept the IRS’ determination of the tax deficiency, (2) appeal to IRS Appeals, or (3) simply disregard the letter and wait for the next IRS notice. If the taxpayer then appeals to IRS Appeals and is unable to settle the case, or if the taxpayer simply disregards the 30-day letter, the IRS will then send a notice of deficiency letter called the, “90-day letter”.

The 90-day letter gives a taxpayer several options. He may pay the amount owed based upon the IRS determination of deficiency and pursue refund tax procedures in U.S. District Court or the Court of Federal Claims. A taxpayer may also petition to the Tax Court within 90 days (unlike pursuing refund procedures, payment of a deficiency is not required in order to litigate in Tax Court). If the taxpayer’s case involves less than $50,000 in dispute for each tax year, a taxpayer may file the case as a “small tax case” (also called, “S-case”). S-cases are advantageous for taxpayers who are arguing without legal counsel, as informal court procedures are used; however, right to appeal the case is waived. Finally, if a taxpayer does not respond to the 90-day letter at all, the tax deficiency is then assessed, and the amount owed may then be collected by the IRS if not paid within ten days. The IRS is required to give a notice and demand for payment within sixty days of assessing the deficiency.

If a taxpayer loses in Tax Court, the case may then be appealed to the Appellate Court in the Circuit the taxpayer resides when the case was filed (provided it is not an S-case). Alternatively, taxpayers who lost pursuing refund procedures in District Court may appeal to the Court of Appeals, and those who lost in the Court of Federal Claims may appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear appeals for any of the Circuit Courts.

This is a very basic overview of Federal Income Tax Procedure and Litigation. It is important to note, that depending upon your case, it may be strategically necessary to litigate in traditional district court, as opposed to Tax Court. This will involve more formal legal procedures.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you analyze your case, choose the appropriate litigation venue for the appeal, and vigorously represent your interests before the IRS and in courts.

Call NOW to discuss this case with an experienced tax attorney!