Attorney Jailed for Helping Hide Money for Clients at Their Swiss Bank Accounts

On March 18, 2014, the IRS and U.S. Department of Justice announced the California attorney Christopher M. Rusch was sentenced to serve 10 months in prison for helping his clients Mr. Stephen M. Kerr and Mr. Michael Quiel, both businessmen from Phoenix, hide millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts at UBS AG and Pictet & Cie. Additionally, U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg also ordered Rusch to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence.

The sentencing following the February 6, 2013, Mr. Rusch guilty plea to conspiracy to defraud US government and failing to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel were sentenced in September of 2013 to each serve 10 months in prison after both were tried and convicted of filing false income tax returns for 2007 and 2008. The jury also convicted Mr. Kerr of failing to file FBARs for 2007 and 2008 (with respect to the Swiss bank accounts).

Facts of the Case

According to the DOJ, Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel, with the assistance of Mr. Rusch and others (including Swiss nationals) established nominee foreign entities and corresponding bank accounts in Switzerland to conceal Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel’s ownership and control of stock and income they deposited in these accounts. Mr. Rusch testified at trial, admitting that he and others caused the sale of the shares of stock through the undeclared accounts.

Rusch further testified that, at Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel’s direction, he transferred some of the money in the secret accounts back to the United States through Mr. Rusch’s Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account before dispersing the money for Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel’s benefit, including the purchase of a multi-million dollar golf course in Erie, Colorado. According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, with Mr. Rusch’s assistance, Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel each failed to report more than $ 4,600,000 and $2,000,000 of income, respectively, during 2007 and 2008 which they hid in the undeclared accounts with Mr. Rusch’s assistance.

IRS and DOJ Continue Pursuit of US Tax Advisors for US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Swiss Bank Accounts

Since the 2008 UBS case victory, the IRS and the DOJ have been continuously increasing the pressure on the US and foreign tax advisors who help their US clients hide money in offshore accounts, particularly Swiss bank accounts.

“This prosecution serves notice that the Department of Justice will not tolerate fraudulent activity designed to undermine the integrity of our income tax system,” said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo for the District of Arizona.

“Today, Mr. Rusch has been held accountable for his actions in assisting wealthy individuals hide millions of dollars in secret offshore bank accounts and dodge the tax system,” said Chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation Richard Weber. “In addition, Mr. Rusch used his attorney trust account to funnel money from the secret offshore accounts back to Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel for their personal benefit, including the purchase of a multi-million dollar golf course. As the investigation into offshore tax evasion continues, Criminal Investigation will leave no financial stone unturned as we continue to vigorously pursue new leads.”

Top Three Lessons from Rusch Case

Mr. Rusch has committed three “cardinal sins” of tax advising. First, he helped his clients in their pursuit of tax evasions. Second, he used the nominee corporate structures to help his clients evade taxes, thereby tinting the first sin with additional degree of consciousness, willfulness and complexity, providing the IRS with an additional incentive to pursue criminal charges. Finally, Mr. Rusch abused his position as an attorney with a client trust account (which is an ethical violation in addition to legal violation).

The combination of these factors really hurt the Mr. Rusch’s case and provide the IRS and the DOJ with ample ammunition to pursue criminal charges. Of course, the fact that Swiss bank accounts were involved only aggravated Mr. Rusch’s already difficult legal position.