Tax Roundup, 8/13/14: Tax Fairies in the graveyard? And: another payroll service goes bad.

August 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Funeral home signOf course cemetery lots are shooting up in value.  People are dying to get in!  Taxpayers seek the Tax Fairy in the strangest places.  The Tax Fairy is the mythical spirit who can make taxes go away magically, for a reasonable price to a tax wizard who claims to be able to summon her.  A Tax Court case yesterday found taxpayers looking for her in cemeteries (Emphasis mine; slightly edited for readability).

Judge Nega’s overview:

Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-2, Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-3 , and Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-4 (collectively, partnerships) are Maryland general partnerships. The partnerships were established to acquire cemetery sites, to hold the sites for over one year, and then to contribute the sites to qualified charitable organizations, with the aim to provide individuals who invested in the partnerships with charitable contribution deductions equal to the appraised values of the sites as of the times of the contributions. Glenn R. Johnston and his colleagues promoted the partnerships to wealthy individuals as a way for them to receive a return of tax benefits in the form of passthrough deductions or losses worth significantly more than the amounts invested. 

What sort of deductions?

…(petitioner) invested $37,500 in each partnership. He made these investments to increase the amounts of his charitable contributions for the subject years and, more particularly, to receive promoted tax benefits worth significantly more than his investments. He expected that his investments would return him tax benefits worth $50,000 for each subject year. 

HMPA 1995-2 claimed the $1,864,850 charitable contribution deduction on that return. Petitioner was allocated $135,127 of that deduction, and petitioners deducted the $135,127 on their 1996 individual return as a charitable contribution. HMPA 1995-2 reported on its 1996 Form 1065 that HMPA 1995-2 had no income or expenses for 1996 (but for the charitable contribution deduction).

So: invest $35,000, deduct $135,000, save (conservatively) 1/3 of $135,000, or $45,000.  What could go wrong?

On September 29, 2005, Mr. Johnston was indicted on (1) one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by selling, claiming, and causing others to sell and claim millions of dollars in false and fraudulent tax deductions for charitable contributions and concealing from the IRS income from the sales of the fraudulent deductions and (2) multiple counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false returns by investors in the partnerships so that the investors claimed charitable contribution deductions in amounts substantially greater than allowable. These charges involved the partnerships, among one or more other entities. Mr. Johnston pleaded guilty to the first count on April 12, 2007.

Sure, it’s a criminal enterprise, but the deductions are still good, right?  And didn’t the statute run?  Nope.  The court ruled that the IRS met the procedural requirements to keep the statute of limitations open by properly initiating partnership-level proceedings.  The court also ruled that the taxpayer couldn’t claim a business loss for the partnership investments:

tax fairyPetitioners argue secondarily that they may deduct a $37,500 loss for each year as to petitioner’s investments in the partnerships. To that end, petitioners assert, petitioner’s ownership interests in the partnerships were worthless as of the end of the corresponding years in which the partnerships operated, and he knew that the interests were worthless as of those times and abandoned his interests as of those times. Petitioners add that petitioner invested in the partnerships to make a profit and in furtherance of a legislative intent to encourage charitable contributions.

But the court ruled that seeking charitable deductions isn’t a “trade or business,” and that no business loss was available.  $35,000 spent to net a tax savings of nothing.

The Moral?  This thing should never have passed the “too good to be true” test.  The deductions depended on incredible post-contribution appreciation in graves.  Anybody thinking this sort of thing might actually work really needs to get out more.  And there is no tax fairy.

Cite: McElroy, T.C. Memo 2014-163.

Related:  Three Years is the Normal Statute of Limitations, But Not Always (Paul Neiffer).

 

EFTPSAnother payroll service makes off with employers’ payroll tax payments.  From emissourian.com:

 

A Washington man pleaded guilty this week to federal mail fraud and money laundering charges.

Bradley Ferguson, 48, owner of Paymaster Business Solutions in Fenton, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6 in U.S. District Court. 

He pleaded guilty to one felony count of mail fraud and one felony count of money laundering before U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber.

Ferguson is accused of withdrawing money from the bank accounts of business clients to pay federal, state and local taxes but did not make the payments, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

While it makes sense for many taxpayers to outsource payroll functions, the tax law still holds the employers responsible for getting withholdings to the IRS.  If you outsource your payroll taxes, you should use Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) online access to make sure your payroll tax remittances are actually hitting your account.  If you use a service that doesn’t allow you to do this — like many “professional employer organizations” who “co-employ” their clients’ workers — you need to make other arrangements, like bonding, to protect yourself.

 

Peter Reilly, Alimony Deduction Requires Good Substantiation.  “It turns out that taxpayers are routinely whipsawing the IRS.”

William Perez, How to Get a Federal Tax Credit for the Cost of Child Care.

Kay Bell, James-Love NBA combo is tax boon to two Cleveland towns.

TaxGrrrl, Think Before You Post: The Dangers Of Seeking Tax Advice On The Internet:

I was pretty shocked at how much information folks were willing to share on the internet about their tax evasion questions, strategies and justifications. Sometimes, these folks are regular forum posters who happily share their location and other identifying information while others clearly try to remain somewhat anonymous.

In case you were wondering, the IRS has internet access.

 

Jason Dinesen, Rare Home Office Deduction Win in Tax Court

Carl Smith, In Some Cases IRS Seeks to Conflict Out Lawyers Who Represented Taxpayers in CDP Hearings (Procedurally Taxing).  CDP stands for “collections due process.”  The IRS is bigger than you, peasant.

 

Tony Nitti, Final IRS Rules On Partnership Technical Terminations Will Surprise Some Tax Pros

 

20140813-1David Brunori: Congress Shouldn’t Make State Tax Systems Worse (Tax Analysts Blog)

As my colleague Maria Koklanaris reported, 29 Democratic members of Congress asked leaders of the California State Legislature to reauthorize and expand the state’s film tax credit. Led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the federal lawmakers asked California to extend a very bad tax policy, saying that if it doesn’t, film jobs will be lost forever to other states. 

Why film credits? Why not some other industry? Politicians are the worst at determining what’s best for the marketplace. Despite the studies funded by the Motion Picture Association of America that say otherwise, film tax credits don’t work. In virtually every state that has them, there’s no discernible economic effect — that is, the tax giveaway did not result in more economic activity than would have occurred without it.

Iowa has some lessons to teach here.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 461

 

There’s only one left? Owner of the Pickle pleads guilty to federal tax fraud.

Because you invited clients?   PwC’s Bob Moritz on Why You Shouldn’t Miss Your Kid’s Birthday Party for Work (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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