Prison Sentence for Quiet Disclosure: the Kaminsky Case

On March 4, 2015, Gregg A. Kaminsky, a former UBS client, was sentenced for willfully failing to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (the “FBAR”) with the U.S. Department of Treasury in connection with his concealment of income and assets in accounts in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Thailand over several years, as well as his failure to report certain income earned in the virtual world, “Second Life.”

“Federal tax revenue is crucial to protecting our borders; fighting terrorism, cybercrime, and other national security threats; providing disaster relief; and to performing other critical government functions,” said Acting U. S. Attorney John Horn. “This office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who intentionally avoid paying their fair share, whether their schemes involve income earned or hidden offshore, here at home, or even in a virtual world.”

“U.S. citizens who seek to avoid their tax obligations by hiding income in undeclared bank accounts abroad should by now be fully on notice that they will be held accountable for their actions, both civilly and criminally,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot. “Americans who file accurate, honest and timely returns can be assured that the government will hold accountable those who don’t.”

Facts of the Case

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court:

Kaminsky was an Internet entrepreneur who served as the Chief Executive Officer of Circlenet LLC, based in Atlanta, Georgia. From 2000 through mid-2009, Kaminsky owned and controlled a foreign bank account with Union Bank of Switzerland AG (“UBS”). By 2006, Kaminsky’s UBS account held approximately $1.1 million. From time to time between 2002 and 2009, Kaminsky caused funds to be wire-transferred from his UBS account in Switzerland to other foreign bank accounts controlled by him in Thailand and Hong Kong. Also during that time, Kaminsky caused his income from at least two different U.S. companies to be direct-deposited into his UBS account in Switzerland.

Yet, over this period, Kaminsky did not disclose his UBS account or other foreign financial accounts to the U. S. Treasury Department as required, and thereby concealed several hundred thousand dollars in taxable income, interest, and dividends from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In addition, in 2007 and 2008, Kaminsky omitted his UBS account and associated income from Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that he electronically filed with the U.S. Department of Education in order to qualify for need-based federal financial aid to fund his tuition for an Executive MBA program at Emory University. At the time of the FAFSA applications, Kaminsky controlled over a half million dollars in his UBS account, which would have made him ineligible for federal student loan assistance.

On June 30, 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice sought court approval to compel UBS to disclose the identities of U.S. account holders who may be using UBS accounts to hide assets overseas and thereby evade U.S. taxes. The request and the order authorizing it were widely reported by the media throughout the United States, and this coverage continued throughout 2008 and 2009 as the U.S., UBS, and Switzerland negotiated a resolution and UBS began disclosing U.S. account holders to the IRS.

Following this news, Kaminsky closed his UBS account and transferred the balance of his UBS account to an account that he controlled at HSBC Bank in Hong Kong. Further, in spring 2010, Kaminsky filed FBARs for his Swiss and Hong Kong accounts for the very first time, also filing amended individual income tax returns for 2007 and 2008 that disclosed the previously unreported income in his UBS account. However, in his amended 2007 and 2008 returns, and in his subsequently filed returns for 2009 through 2012, Kaminsky still failed to report nearly $150,000 in taxable income earned from his business activities in the virtual world, “Second Life.”

Participants in Second Life, referred to as “residents,” can engage in a wide variety of business activities, including buying, renting, and sub-leasing virtual land and buying and selling other virtual goods, services, and experiences for their “avatars.” Transactions are conducted using a virtual currency, “Linden Dollars.” Linden Dollars can be bought and traded on the “Linden Exchange,” and are redeemable for cash.

Including his virtual world income, Kaminsky failed to report over $400,000 in income to the IRS between 2000 and 2012, resulting in a loss to the IRS of approximately $125,000.

Kaminsky’s Sentence

Kaminsky was sentenced to serve four months in federal prison to be followed by two years of supervised release, two months of home confinement, and 200 hours of community service. Kaminsky was also ordered to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $91,983. Kaminsky was convicted on these charges on December 18, 2014, after he pleaded guilty. As part of his plea agreement with the United States, Kaminsky was also required to pay a civil penalty to the IRS in the amount of $250,635.20, which is equivalent to fifty percent of the value of the balance in Kaminsky’s HSBC account in Hong Kong as of June 30, 2009.

Lesson from the Kaminsky’s Case – the Dangers of Attempting Incomplete Quiet Disclosure

Kaminsky’s case is a good illustration of my last year’s article on the how quiet disclosure in the current enforcement environment can be a very dangerous option. Kaminsky amended two tax returns and disclosed income from his UBS account for those two years and filed the FBARs for 2009. This was a fairly standard way of doing quiet disclosure, but it could not in any form qualify as a voluntary disclosure – and Kaminsky paid dearly for this attempt.

However, there is another important lesson of Kaminsky’s case for the persons who intend to engage in a voluntary disclosure – you cannot do a partial voluntary disclosure. Kaminsky failed to report his worldwide income on his amended tax returns – he only reported income that was directly relevant to the foreign accounts. Failure to submit complete and accurate amended tax returns undoubtedly contributed to the criminal sentence in this case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Conducting Proper Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal and tax help. Our international tax lawyer, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen will thoroughly analyze your case and advise you on your voluntary disclosure options. Once you choose your voluntary disclosure path, our firm will prepare all of the necessary documents and legal forms, and conduct your voluntary disclosure in a proper and expeditious manner.

We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe, and we can help you. So, Call Us Now to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

San Francisco International Tax Lawyer: Influence of Location

While looking for a San Francisco international tax lawyer, one of the important issues that clients face is whether it is better to retain an international tax attorney in San Francisco or in Minneapolis if you live in San Francisco? If you were to search “San Francisco international tax lawyer”, Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. (which is based in Minneapolis) is likely to come out on the first page together with other international tax attorneys in San Francisco. The question is: should the geographical proximity of an attorney play a role in the retainer decision?

The answer depends on many factors. On the one extreme, if you are looking for a sales tax lawyer, then you may not have a choice but to find a local lawyer. This is because local law and procedure would govern in this case, and an lawyer familiar with local sales tax issues would be the best choice for handling a sales tax case. Of course, even in this case, there are exceptions because, sometimes, the unique qualities of an outside lawyer are so desirable by the client that the court may accede in temporarily admitting this outside lawyer to practice just for one case.

One the other end of the spectrum, if you are searching for a San Francisco international tax lawyer because you have undeclared offshore accounts, then the knowledge of local law and procedure are likely to be of very little value. Instead, the experience and knowledge of a lawyer in his area of practice (i.e. international tax law) will become the overriding factors in retaining a San Francisco international tax lawyer.

What if you have an international tax lawyer in San Francisco, do you still want to consider an attorney in Minneapolis? The answer is “yes” – for two reasons. First, international tax lawyers differ in their natural ability to identify problems and find solutions, creativity, advocacy and many other factors. Therefore, there is no reason to stay away from a better international tax lawyer in Minneapolis even if there is a lawyer in San Francisco.

Second, in addition to differences in personal qualities, the experience of the international tax lawyer in the international tax sub-area that you need and the ability to analyze the specific subject matter in the broader context are very important factors in retaining the lawyer and should override the lawyer’s particular geography.

What is a fairly unique feature about Sherayzen Law Office is that we can handle the entire case internally – both, the legal and the accounting sides of it. Most San Francisco international tax lawyers in this area of law do not do that and rely on the outside accountant to provide such additional services. The outsourcing approach has various disadvantages, including potential leak of information, lack of close coordination between both sides of the case, increased possibility of missed opportunities and absence of the unity of goal among the professionals who are preoccupied with their respective areas only. The approach adopted by Sherayzen Law Office is aimed to reduce and eliminate such problems.

So, the next time you search for a San Francisco international tax lawyer, keep these issues in mind while retaining a lawyer from Minneapolis or any other city.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With International Tax Issues

If you have any international tax issues with respect to undeclared foreign assets, international tax compliance or international tax planning, contact Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced tax attorney of Sherayzen Law Office for comprehensive legal and tax help.