Posts Tagged ‘FBAR’

IRS makes it less risky for U.S. residents to start reporting foreign accounts.

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has announced updated procedures for taxpayers to file overdue FBAR foreign account disclosures.  These reports are required of taxpayers who have foreign accounts with balances that exceed $10,000 at any time during the year.  Penalties can reach 50% of the highest account balance per year of willful violations.

The new rules provide a streamlined procedure for U.S. residents to begin reporting FBAR non-filing.  The procedure had been available only to non-residents.  It also has eliminated the inane $1,500 cap on unreported taxes from foreign accounts.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

     In addition to permitting resident U.S. taxpayers to use the streamlined program, the IRS has also eliminated the $1,500 tax threshold and the risk questionnaire. Taxpayers must certify that previous compliance failures were not willful.

Under the revised program, all penalties will be waived for nonresident U.S. taxpayers and resident taxpayers will be subject only to a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

[Attorney Caroline] Ciraolo said practitioners will be pleased that the streamlined program will now be available to residents that previously did not qualify because they were living in the U.S. at the time they initially attempted disclosure. 

This liberalization is combined with higher penalties in some cases.

This looks like a positive development, though I still think it should be more liberal.  A no-questions asked policy for taxpayers with liabilities under a reasonable threshold, with only interest charged on late taxes, would be even better — especially given the extra penalties on those who come in only when it is clear their banks are going to turn over their names anyway.  There are requirements for submitting back foreign account statements, which may not be available.

The IRS doesn’t appear to be applying the relief retroactively, so taxpayers who have already come in voluntarily and paid ridiculous penalties are played for chumps.  And the real problem — worldwide taxation under the U.S. tax system — remains.  A Wall Street Journal report sums it up:

One potential drawback: Taxpayers who come forward in the future may end up faring better than those who heard about the U.S. campaign in the past and presented their case to the IRS then. For example, experts said, taxpayers from the latter group who owed more than $1,500 in taxes could have paid a penalty as high as 27.5%.

In addition, taxpayers abroad face the risk of double taxation, said John Richardson, a Toronto lawyer who works with U.S. taxpayers living in Canada. “The problem is that, penalties aside, the U.S. tax laws are very punitive for U.S. citizens abroad,” he said.

Links:

Commissioner Koskinen news release

IRS news release, IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs; Revisions Ease Burden and Help More Taxpayers Come into Compliance 

Streamlined offshore resident procedures

Streamlined U.S. resident procedures

Jack Townsend has a summary and more useful links to the updated IRS procedures.

Accounting Today has a useful article with an oxymoronic headline, IRS Eases Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program for Non-willful Tax Evasion.  If it’s not willful, it’s not evasion.

And remember, the FBAR report for 2013 accounts on Form 114 is due June 30.

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Tax Roundup, 6/4/14: IRS to ease up on FBAR foot-faulters? And: nanny-state taxes!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will take Thursday and Friday off this week to tend to a family wedding.  We’ll be back as usual Monday.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Maybe we shouldn’t be shooting jaywalkers?  The IRS may be declaring a cease-fire in its long war on inadvertent foreign account violators.  Tax Analysts reports ($link) that IRS Commissioner Koskinen told a tax conference that it will be modifying its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative:

“We are well aware that there are many U.S. citizens who have resided abroad for many years, perhaps even the vast majority of their lives,” Koskinen told a luncheon audience at the 2014 OECD International Tax Conference in Washington. “We have been considering whether these individuals should have an opportunity to come into compliance that doesn’t involve the type of penalties that are appropriate for U.S.-resident taxpayers who were willfully hiding their investments overseas.”

Gee, you think so?  You really think 25%-300% penalties might not be appropriate for the crime of committing personal finance while living abroad?  What could possibly have given him that idea?

     Koskinen also pointed to taxpayers residing in the United States with offshore accounts “whose prior noncompliance clearly did not constitute willful tax evasion but who, to date, have not had a clear way of coming into compliance that doesn’t involve the threat of substantial penalties.”

“We believe that re-striking this balance between enforcement and voluntary compliance is particularly important at this point in time, given that we are nearing July 1, the effective date of FATCA,” Koskinen said. 

One of the things that made Doug Shulman the Worst Commissioner Ever was his brutal treatment of trivial inadvertent offshore paperwork filing violators.  Hopefully his successor will make coming into compliance voluntarily a transparent, predictable process designed primarily to ensure future compliance.  Something like state programs for non-resident non-filers, where taxpayers pay back taxes, if any, and interest for a limited number of open years would make sense  People are understandably reluctant to come into compliance when it can mean financial ruin.

The IRS has not released any details of this kinder, gentler approach, so curb your enthusiasm for now.

Related: IRS Commissioner Koskinen Announces that Changes — Liberalizations — Are In the Offing for OVDP 2012  (Jack Townsend)  “All in all, this is good news, at least from a hope perspective.”

 

20140409-1Robert D Flach offers YET ANOTHER POST CALLING FOR A VOLUNTARY TAX PREPARER DESIGNATION.  Robert makes his case for a “voluntary” designation for preparers who meet some standard.

Robert says something I agree with:

  Having the IRS oversee the designation is not the best idea.  I have suggested that the voluntary RTRP-like designation be administered by an independent industry-based organization like an American Institute of Registered Tax Return Preparers (see “It’s Time for Independent Certification for Tax Preparers“).

If the IRS has nothing to do with it, fine.  If it does, it will inevitably do special favors for its “voluntary” friends and make like difficult for others.

Robert is a little like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, looking for a brain.  The movie quickly makes clear that the Scarecrow already has a perfectly good brain; all he lacks is a diploma.  Robert, a perfectly good (if old-fashioned) preparer, doesn’t need a diploma to save his clients from the Wicked Witch.

 

TaxGrrrl, After TIGTA Report, Expect More Tax Refund Delays,  The IRS is encouraged to expand its refund offset programs.

Paul Neiffer, Portability Revisited. “With the “permanent” changes in the estate tax laws from about 2 years ago, we now have a permanent provision called portability.  This allows for the unused portion of someone’s estate to be “ported” over to the surviving spouse to be used on their final estate tax return.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 391

 

 

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

Joseph Thorndike, Democrats Just Love Their Nanny-State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Foundation recently spotlighted a Democratic tax proposal that gives substance to the name-calling: the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act, introduced last month by Sens. Tom Harkin, and Richard Blumenthal.

According to its champions, the act would protect children from the predations of junk food purveyors. In particular, it would deny manufacturers any sort of tax deduction “for advertising and marketing directed at children to promote the consumption of food of poor nutritional quality.” It would use the resulting revenue to help fund the Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

That all sounds great. Except for the fact that it’s arbitrary, capricious, and an egregious misuse of tax policy.

The tax law – is there anything it can’t do?

Joseph adds, wisely:

Reasonable people can disagree about what qualifies as a loophole. But by almost any definition, the deduction for advertising junk food is not one.

Once you decide the tax law is a public policy Swiss Army Knife, there’s no logical place to stop.

 

20140411-1Kay Bell, Calories or volume: Which is the better tax on sugary drinks?  Neither.  Some problems just aren’t tax problems.

David Brunori’s righteous anger at taxes on e-cigarettes is now freely available at Tax Analysts Blog: Taxing E-Cigarettes Seems Crazy.  “Yet politicians routinely say that e-cigarettes will lead people to start smoking, or worse — use drugs! Are they daft?”  No, just greedy.

 

Renu Zaretsky, In the Midwest, Across the Pacific, and Down Under.  Tax Custs in Ohio and a rejected tax boost in Missouri are part of the TaxVox headline roundup today.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Will Anti-Tax Yogis Sink Tax-Reform in D.C.?.  If that’s what it takes to get the pic-i-nic basket.

 

This will make the homecoming in 2042 a little less awkward.  WMUR.com reports:

The woman who, along with her husband, held police at bay during a nine-month standoff in 2007 over tax evasion has apologized to the community.

Elaine Brown’s apology appeared in Plain Facts, a monthly publication written by Plainfield residents.

She said she and her husband Ed were trying to advance the “cause of justice.” She went on to say they “failed to take into account the impact we were having on others in the town. We failed to realize the fear, anxiety and impact we were causing these good people.

She was unable to apologize in person because she has been detained — until November 2042, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator.  She should be home in time to invite her neighbors to her 102nd birthday party.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/15/14: Serving society by shooting jaywalkers, sending billionaires to elementary school.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Don’t forget to mail your 1040 first quarter estimated tax payments today!

 

Wikipedia image

Wikipedia image

“Society will be best served by allowing him to continue his good works.”  So said Federal Judge Charles Kocaras in sentencing Beanie Baby Billionaire Ty Warner to two years of probation and 500 hours of community service.  Mr. Warner admitted evading taxes on more than $3.3 million in income through the use of Swiss accounts in a plea deal, but his total unpaid taxes was in the neighborhood of $5.6 million, according to Bloomberg News.

So Mr. Beanie Baby gets to do good works.  It’s remarkable, considering the federal sentencing guidelines for a $5 million tax loss start at a 51-month sentence.

Meanwhile, an American woman who has lived her adult life in France is terrified that she will be financially ruined if she starts complying with foreign reporting requirements that she had no idea existed.  A Canadian born of an American parent who has never been to the U.S. faces ruinous penalties because he never filed U.S. tax returns or FBAR reports — it never occurred to him that he might have to file U.S. taxes.  A second-generation American who inherited a foreign bank account from her father faces a minimum of $40,000 in penalties after not paying a whopping $100 in income tax on the account, which she didn’t even know existed.

So society is best served by allowing Mr. Beanie Baby to help out in classrooms, while the IRS quietly imposes outrageous penalties on the innocent conduct of non-billionaires for foot-faulting their paperwork?  I think society would be best served by letting people voluntarily come into compliance without facing financial ruin.  I think society would be best served by not imposing insanely severe penalties for failing to report a Canadian bank account on time when no tax was avoided.  I think society would be best served by not terrorizing Americans abroad for committing personal finance.  But I’m not a federal judge, so my idea of what best serves society doesn’t mean much.

Related:

Jack Townsend, The Beanie Baby Man, The Tax Evader Adult Man, Ty Warner, Gets Probation!  “I do ask the question that comes immediately to mind.  What is it about the very rich that seems to resonate with sentencing judges?”

Janet Novack, No Jail Time For Beanie Babies Billionaire Tax Evader Ty Warner   “Even after those payments, he will still, according to an accounting he gave the government, be worth more than $1.8 billion.”

 

Kyle Pomerleau, IRS Data on Income Shifts Shows Progressivity of Federal Individual Income Tax (Tax Policy Blog):

In 1980, the top 1 percent accounted for 8.46 percent of adjusted gross income and 19.06 percent of income taxes paid: a difference of 10.59 percent. By 2011, their share of income increased to 18.7 and their share of all income taxes paid increased to 35.06; the difference increased to 16.35 percent.

Top 1 pays more than bottom 90

 

So increasing taxes on the rich didn’t make things more “equal.”  How about that.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Howard Gleckman, IRS Gets Hammered in the 2014 Budget Agreement (TaxVox):

The Internal Revenue Service is one of the biggest losers in the 2014 budget deal agreed to last night by House and Senate negotiators. Under the agreement, the service would get just $11.3 billion, which is $526 million below its 2013 budget and $1.7 billion less than President Obama requested. 

Congress uses the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  It has a sprawling portfolio that ranges from energy policy to welfare to health care — responsibilities that dwarf many of the cabinet agencies nominally overseeing those areas.  Yet Congress, while increasing the responsibility of the IRS more and more, is cutting its resources.  That won’t end well.

Yet the IRS in a way has itself to blame.  It’s outrageous politicization under Doug Shulman and the resulting Tea Party harassment have had the predictable effect of making the Republicans consider the IRS a political opponent.  Nobody wants to fund the opposition.  And no, I don’t buy Mr. Gleckman’s line that “…the 501(c)(4) mess was caused in part by a lack of resources.”  If you don’t have resources, you don’t spend extra time singling out certain political views for “special” treatment.”

 

David Brunori, Apple and Wal-Mart Are Perfect Together in a World of Bad Tax Policy (Tax Analysts Blog):

In any event, the purveyors of tomorrow’s technology and cheap toiletries recently got together to lobby for a sales tax holiday in Wisconsin. In that regard at least, Apple and Wal-Mart are very much alike. They favor bad tax policy when it helps their bottom line. 

Of course they do.  The real shame is the legislators who make it happen.

microsoft-apple

 

TaxGrrrl, No Criminal Charges Expected In FBI Investigation Into IRS Scandal

William Perez discusses Prices for Professional Tax Preparation Services.

Kay Bell, California has $16 million in undeliverable 2012 tax refunds

Robert D. Flach, THE FUTURE OF THE RTRP DESIGNATION – THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES:  “To be effective the organization that administers the independent voluntary RTRP credential must have the backing, support, and recognition of the entire industry, and not just one component or organization.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 251

If the sentence is carried out on April 16, it’s cruel and unusual punishment.  Governor Christie Redeems Himself By Signing “CPA Death Penalty” Legislation in New Jersey (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/10/2014: Taxpayer advocate rips IRS penalties and foreign account enforcement. Also: the Code still stinks!

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

The Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report directs some well-deserved fire on two of the worst IRS practices: the penalty-happy approach to examinations and the shoot-the-jaywalkers approach to offshore enforcement.

The report says this about penalties:

The IRS’s decision not to abate inapplicable penalties illustrates its resource-driven approach to them. As we have described in prior reports, the IRS too often proposes accuracy-related penalties automatically when they might potentially apply — before performing a careful analysis of the relevant facts and circumstances — and then burdens taxpayers by requiring them to prove the penalties do not apply.

The IRS should identify and abate all of the accuracy-related penalties that should not apply. It should minimize taxpayer burden when administering the IRC § 6676 penalty (e.g., by not proposing it automatically) and work with the Treasury Department to support a reasonable cause exception.

Amen.  The tax law is hard, and when a taxpayer does what a reasonable person — not a reasonable tax lawyer — should do to pay the right amount, there shouldn’t be an automatic 20% mistake penalty.  Too bad the advocate doesn’t seem to have embraced my “sauce for the gander” penalty, which would make the IRS pay taxpayers the same 20% penalty when the IRS makes an unjustified assessment.

Regarding foreign account enforcement, the report faults the IRS shoot-the-jaywalker approach (my emphasis):

In the 2009 OVD program, the median offshore penalty paid by those with the smallest accounts ($87,145 or less) was nearly six times the tax on their unreported income. Among unrepresented taxpayers with small accounts it was nearly eight times the unpaid tax. The penalty was also disproportionately greater than the amount paid by those with the largest accounts (more than $4.2 million) who paid a median of about three times their unreported tax. When the IRS audited taxpayers who opted out (or were removed), on average, it assessed smaller, but still severe, penalties of nearly 70 percent of the unpaid tax and interest. Given the harsh treatment the IRS applied to benign actors, others have made quiet disclosures by correcting old returns or by complying in future years without subjecting themselves to the lengthy and seemingly-unfair OVD process. Still others have not addressed FBAR compliance problems, and the IRS has not done enough to help them comply.

20121129-1Shooting the jaywalkers so you can slap the bad actors on the wrist.

The IRS should expand the self-correction and settlement options available to benign actors so that they are not pressured to opt out or pay more than they should; do more to educate persons with foreign accounts (e.g., recent immigrants) about the reporting requirements; consolidate and simplify guidance; and reduce duplicative reporting requirements.

The IRS should follow the lead of the states that allow non-resident taxpayers who voluntarily disclose past non-compliance to file and pay five years of prior taxes, with only interest and no penalties — reserving the penalties for those who wait until they are caught.  Tax Analysts quotes one lawyer as saying this would be unfair to the already-wounded jaywalkers:

“It’s very hard to make the program more lenient now without going back and adjusting thousands of [prior] taxpayers’ resolutions since 2009,” he said. That is something the IRS is likely unwilling to do, he added.

Too bad.  That’s exactly what they should do.

 There’s a lot more to the report, including a call for a new taxpayers bill of rights (good) and a renewed call for IRS preparer regulation (a waste of IRS and preparer time).

Related: 

Lynnley  Browning, IRS top cop says the agency is too hard on offshore tax dodgers.  I can’t imagine she wrote that headline.  Any lazy headline writers who call an inadvertent FBAR violator a “tax dodger” should have half their bank account balances seized if they ever forget to report a 1099.

TaxGrrrl, Report To Congress: IRS Is Increasingly Unable To Meet Taxpayer Needs

Jack Townsend,New Taxpayer Advocate Report to Congress Addressing, Inter Alia, OVDI/P Concerns

 

TaxProf, IRS Releases FY2013 2006 Enforcement Stats:

The IRS has released Fiscal Year 2013 Enforcement and Service Results, showing among other things:

  • Individual audit rate:  0.96% (lowest since 2005)

  • Large corporation audit rate: 15.8% (lowest since 2009)

  • Revenue from audits:  $9.8 billion (lowest since 2003)

  • Number of IRS agents:  19,531 (lowest since pre-2000)

  • Conviction rate:  93.1% (highest since pre-2000)

It’s hard to see where the IRS has the resources for making compliant preparers waste their time on preparer regulation busywork.

 

William Perez, Fourth Estimated Tax Payment for 2013 Due on January 15

Paul Neiffer, How Low is Too Low For A Rental Arrangement?  “We had a reader ask the following question: ‘Does leasing cropland to a family member for substantially less than fair market value become “gifting” subject to taxes for value above gifting limit?'”

Jason Dinesen,  Review Your Small Business Operations as Part of Year-End/Year-Beginning Planning

Leslie Book, NTA Annual Report Released (Procedurally Taxing)

 

 

Christopher Bergin, The Tax Code in 2014 – It Still Stinks (Tax Analysts Blog):

I’ve always believed in progressive income taxation. This isn’t it. The conservatives have sold us on the notion that tax is a dirty word, and the liberals have sold us on the notion that class envy is a healthy state of mind.

And that, folks, is why the tax code stinks. And it won’t get any better in the new year.   

There’s more to the stink than that, but it’s a good start.

 

Scott Hodge, Millionaire Taxpayers Tend to be Older.  Well, that’s one good thing about aging, I guess.

20140110-1

Howard Gleckman, Pay to Extend Unemployment Benefits? Why Not Pay to Extend Temporary Tax Breaks Too?  (TaxVox)

Tax Justice Blog,  Reasons Why Congress Should Allow the Deduction for Tuition to Remain Expired

Kay Bell, Marijuana sales, tax collections good for Colorado coffers.

 

The Newest Cavalcade of Risk is up!  Hank Stern participates with an Overseas ObamaTax Conundrum

 

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

Career Corner: This Year, Resolve to Finally Decide What You Want To Be When You Grow Up in Public Accounting (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/8/2014: Instructions for the Net Investment Income Tax! And new foreign account reporting rules.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140108-1Almost four years after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the IRS has issued draft instructions for the act’s “Net Investment Income Tax” form, Form 8960 — which itself has only been issued as a draft so far.  With work already underway on many returns subject to this tax, especially trust returns, the timing is lame.  But this is one aspect of Obamacare that isn’t going to get punted, so we will have to go to war with the forms we have.

The draft instructions provide worksheets for some of the more baroque computations that will be needed to complete the form, including the net loss computation and the allocation of itemized deductions to net investment income.  Still, much of the work will have to be done off-the-forms on preparer worksheets applying the regulations.  Tony Nitti says:

That is my big takeaway from the instructions – there’s no faking it. When we saw that this new, complex area of the law would ultimately be computed on a one-page form, we anticipated that the meat of the computation would be done off-form in worksheets provided by the instructions. And that’s exactly what happened. But that shifts the onus back to us as tax advisors to make sure our inputs are correct, which means we must understand the nuances of the final regulations.

Based on my review of the instructions, it will be virtually impossible for a tax advisor to accurately compute, for example, the Net Gains and Losses worksheet without a solid understanding of the types of gains and losses the final regulations contemplate being included in and excluded from net investment income.

As with the rest of the ACA, what could possibly go wrong?

 

Russ Fox, FBAR Changes for 2014

First, Form TD F 90-22.1 is no more. The FBAR has a new form number, Form 114.

Second, as of last July the FBAR must be electronically filed. The good news is that as of last October, your tax accountant can file the form for you as long as you complete Form 114a.

Also, notes Russ, the filing requirement now kicks in when the balance of all foreign accounts together exceeds $10,000.  It used to be account-by-account.

 

William Perez offers Resources for Preparing Form 1099-MISC for Small Businesses

Kay Bell says it’s Time to get organized for your 2014 tax filing tasks

Paul Neiffer advises us to Decant a Trust – Not Wine.

 

David Brunori on the unwisdom of subjecting business inputs to sales tax:

Indeed, virtually every state tax commission that has studied this issue has concluded that business inputs should be exempt from tax. Why? When you tax business purchases, the tax becomes part of the cost of doing business, and companies try very hard to pass those costs on to consumers. Two bad things then happen. First, consumers unwittingly pay the tax in the form of higher prices. It is a hidden tax and a most cynical way of financing government. Second, consumers often pay sales tax on the tax embedded in the retail price of the goods they purchase. So we are actually taxing a tax. This “cascading” amounts to awful tax policy.

But, as David points out, that doesn’t stop the demagogues:

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of legislators about sales tax policy. I was asked if I had any ideas for reform. I mentioned the common ideas of broadening the base by taxing services and remote sales, and lowering rates. I also said that states should exempt business purchases from the sales tax. One legislator looked at me like I had three heads and asked, “Do you mean letting corporations off the hook for sales taxes?” He asked where the justice was in a system that would make poor working families pay sales tax but let multinational companies go free.

Not all that different from the Iowa Senate’s approach to income taxes.

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Top 1 Percent Pays More in Taxes than the Bottom 90 Percent (Tax Policy Blog):

An interesting piece of information from the chart below is that after the 01/03 Bush tax cuts, often claimed to be a tax cut for the rich, the tax burden of the top 1 percent actually increased significantly.

Top 1 pays more than bottom 90

No matter how much you jack up taxes on the “top 1%,” the same people always will say “the rich” aren’t paying “their fair share” and need to indulge in some “shared sacrifice.”

 

Howard Gleckman, Taxing Bitcoin (TaxVox)

What if bitcoin is a currency for tax purposes, the same as, say a euro? In that case, profits from sales would be taxed as ordinary income, with a top rate of 39.6 percent, though all losses could offset other income.

Either way, the mere act of buying something [with Bitcoins] would likely be a taxable event.

Tax Justice Blog, GE Just Lost a Tax Break – and Congress Will Probably Fix That.  That’s what fixers do.

Jack Townsend, Prosecuting the Banks: Does the U.S. Prefer Foreign Banks to U.S. Banks?

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 244

Programming note: I will be doing a tax update program sponsored by the Institute for Management Accountants over the Iowa Cable Network tomorrow evening at 6:00 p.m.  It’s a chance to get your continuing education for 2014 off to a roaring start.  I figure on talking about an hour, with an emphasis on the new Net Investment Income regulations and other 2013 changes we will see this filing season.  I’ll also cover some of the more interesting cases and rulings of the last year.

In case you were wondering, our friends at Going Concern explain How To Tell if Your Accounting Firm is Really a Car Wash

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Tax Roundup, 10/1/2013: Shutdown edition. And two weeks left for 2012 1040s!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by Joe Kristan

Extended 1040s are due two weeks from today! Sorry for not posting yesterday, but I’m sure many of you understand.  I was laying in canned goods and ammo for the government shutdown.

Wikipedia image courtesy Tallent Show under Creative Commons license

Wikipedia image courtesy Tallent Show under Creative Commons license

The TaxProf has the IRS Shutdown Plan.  You can still file, but the examiners get a day off.

I like Don Boudreaux’s take:

 If I walk into a supermarket to buy a few artichokes and discover that the supermarket has no artichokes for sale that day, I don’t pay the supermarket for the artichokes that I don’t get.  So shouldn’t we taxpayers be relieved of the obligation to pay for the national-government services that we are not now receiving?

It implies the big difference between things we get from businesses and things we get from the government:  if we don’t like what they have at one store, we can go to another, but if we don’t like the service from Uncle Sam’s Essentials, we can’t exactly take our business elsewhere.

 

Andrew Lundeen and Kyle Pomerleau explain What Happens When There Is a Government Shutdown (Tax Policy Blog):

From 1976 to present there have been 17 shutdowns and like this shutdown, many were caused by political disagreement. For instance, the government shutdown for 12 days in 1977 over a political fight between the House and the Senate over Medicaid policy.

The average length of past government shutdowns is 6.4 days, but this is no indication of how long this shutdown will last. During the Reagan administration there were several shutdowns that only lasted one day.

So either it’s not the end of the world, or the world ends a lot.

Glass half-full: Shutdown Will Stop IRS Audits, but Not ACA Implementation (Jeremy Scott, Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxGrrrl, With Shutdown, Taxes Still Due But You Can’t Ask IRS For Help   

Janet Novack,  Federal Government Begins First Shutdown In 17 Years 

Kay Bell, IRS lays out plan to deal with federal government shutdown

 

William Perez,  IRA Recharacterizations Due by October 15th:

“Recharacterizing” means, quite simply, we can change the character of the IRA: if the contribution was made to a traditional IRA, we can re-characterize it to a Roth IRA; and if the contribution was made to a Roth IRA, it can be recharacterized to a traditional IRA.

 

tax fairyTrish McIntire, It’s Here…

The Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM) opened today! The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that almost everyone must have health insurance by January 1, 2014. The HIM is a way for anyone not covered by an employer’s affordable plan to shop for health insurance. Let’s face it the ACA is complicated and the HIM part is no exception. This post will cover the highlights of the Marketplaces to give you an overview of what will happen.

The Health Care Fairy is  the Tax Fairy’s sister.  Believers in either one end up disappointed.

 

Missouri Tax Guy, How To Write Off Travel Expenses As Business Expenses.  “You can’t go on a one-day business trip and stretch it into a week of sightseeing, and then deduct anything as business-related.”

Point, counterpoint:

4 Reasons the Medical Device Tax is Bad Policy (Kyle Pomerleau, Tax Policy Blog)

The Medical Device Tax Should Not Be Repealed (Tax Justice Blog):

One argument made by the industry against the medical device excise tax is that it singles them out for higher taxes. The reality, however, is that the excise tax was passed as one of many levies on various healthcare sectors to help pay for health insurance expansion. 

That apparently would include the 10% excise tax on tanning booths that is part of Obamacare financing.  They say the tax is paid by something called “various healthcare sectors.”  That’s a fancy way to say “patients.”

 

Jack Townsend, Zwerner Rises to Defense Against Multiple FBAR Penalties:

Readers will recall that, in an unexpected development, Treasury assessed and DOJ Tax sued to collect the 50% FBAR penalty against Carl Zwerner for four years.  Up to that point, based on the information publicly available (principally from offshore account plea convictions), Treasury had only assessed a single FBAR of 50% for the highest year.  Thus, it was of considerable interest — and angst — to taxpayers and practitioners that Treasury would assert 4 years of FBAR penalties.

That could get expensive.

Brian Mahany,  FBAR, FATCA Are Not Dirty Words!  They can certainly trigger some, though.

 

Consolation prizes: Attorney Found Guilty of 28 Tax Charges, but Does Get Nomination for Tax Offender of the Year (Russ Fox)

Peter Reilly,  Has Kent Hovind Given Up Fight Against IRS ?   Mr. Hovind is famous for opening a theme park based on the idea that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.  I suppose if you hang around politicians, you could conclude that.

Robert D. Flach is Buzzing the government shutdown.

 

Nothing is stopping you from writing a check right now, says a cynical tax blogger.   “Tax Us More!” Say Some Wealthy Pennsylvanians (Jim Maule) Because they can pay more taxes any time they want, they really mean “tax other people more.”

 

Career Corner: Ex-PwC Employee Discovers Just How Limiting a Career-Limiting Move Supporting Terrorism Can Be.  (Going Concern)  I worked there when I was a very green new accountant, and I was frequently terrified.

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/19/2013: Beanie Babies busted. And no mo’ Mo Money.

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 by Joe Kristan


20130919-1
Ty Warner was a big winner in life’s lottery.  He invented the Beanie Baby, a toy craze that made him a very wealthy man.  But then, like many lottery winners, he began to handle finances unwisely.  According to media reports, he will plead guilty to hiding funds in Swiss banks.  From the Wall Street Journal:

The creator of Beanie Babies has agreed to plead guilty to U.S. tax evasion and pay $53.6 million, the largest offshore-account penalty ever reported.

Ty Warner, chief executive of Ty Inc., the maker of stuffed dolls, reached an agreement with the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois to plead guilty to a federal tax-evasion charge in connection with undeclared offshore Swiss accounts, according to his lawyer, Gregory Scandaglia, of Scandaglia & Ryan in Chicago.

Mr. Warner also faces a possible prison sentence.

$53.6 million is a lot of beanies.  What I found striking is how little he stood to gain compared to how much he will lose:

The unpaid tax on the account came to $885,300, according to a Justice Department statement.

By my math, there was $60 to lose for every dollar he stood to gain.  That seems like an unwise bet.

Jack Townsend has the definitive coverage, Whopping FBAR Penalty in Criminal Plea; Beanie Baby Creator Gets Beaned With No Free Pass:

But then his reported net worth is $2.6 billion, so in terms of real world punishment, well not much.  He is probably more concerned with the public embarrassment than the cost of his behavior.  It would appear that for real punishment of the mega-wealthy a penalty keyed to the net worth should apply (if higher than the normal FBAR penalty; then, depending upon the amount, there could be some real punishment rather than just a nuisance).  Of course, if he gets some serious incarceration period — which is what the Guidelines will indicate — then there may be some real punishment.  But, the courts have been notoriously lenient in sentencing, at least for persons not so wealthy as Warner (and his earlier colleague among the mega-rich, Olenicoff).

I have only the customary pity for somebody who falls from success to scandal.  It sounds like Mr. Warner knew exactly what he was doing.  I have a lot more sympathy for much smaller taxpayers who face similarly disproportionate penalties relative to unpaid taxes for inadvertent violations.  It’s too bad the IRS has such a hard time telling the difference.  Apparently you have to shoot the jaywalkers so you can slap the real criminals on the wrist.

The TaxProf has more.  So does Jana Luttenegger.

 

20130919-2Mo’ Money no mo’.  The owners of the Mo’ Money tax prep franchise won’t be making any mo’ money doing taxes.  From a Department of Justice press release:

A federal court in Memphis, Tenn., permanently barred the owners of Mo’ Money Taxes, Markey Granberry and Derrick Robinson, as well as a former Mo’ Money manager, Eumora Reese, from preparing tax returns for others and owning or operating a tax return preparation business, the Justice Department announced today.  The civil injunction order, to which Granberry, Robinson and Reese agreed without admitting the allegations against them, was signed by Judge S. Thomas Anderson of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

The business seemed to have its share of fraud trouble at its franchises   Based on this, it appears the problems may have started at the top.

TaxGrrrl, IRS Gets Big Win In Corporate Tax Holiday Case, Readies For Next Fight

William Perez, Need to Pay Taxes for 2012? Be Aware of Penalties and Interest

Paul Neiffer, Estimated 2014 Inflation Adjusted Tax Items

Kay Bell, 2014 tax brackets preview indicates tax savings for many

TaxProf,  The IRS Scandal, Day 133

 

Cara Griffith, The ‘Tech Tax’ That Wasn’t (Tax Analysts Blog)

Alan Cole,  Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax” – A Poor Patch for a Hole in the Income Tax (Tax Policy Blog)

Donald Marron,  The Costs of Debt Limit Brinksmanship  (TaxVox)

 

We should all have such funding problems.  There are two posts today bemoaning the lack if IRS funding:

Tax Justice Blog,  An Underfunded IRS Means More Tax Avoiders Get a Pass.

Christopher Bergin, Mind the Gap, and Fund the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)

Here is a chart of inflation-adjusted IRS funding:

20130821-1

 

You know, it doesn’t look the IRS is doing that badly by historical standards.  If Congress didn’t act like the tax law was the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, giving the IRS duties as varied as industrial policy and running the nation’s healthcare financing, funding would seem more than adequate.

 

The Critical Question:  Is Obamacare the GOP’s White Whale? (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox)

Career Advice:  This Way to CPA Isn’t Too Confident You Can Get By Without Mommy’s Help (Going Concern)

 

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The saga of Canada Cruz.

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by Joe Kristan

 

cruzTed Cruz is lucky it wasn’t the other way around.  The Texas Senator recently learned that he is an accidental Canadian citizen because he was born in Calgary.  His American mom moved back to the U.S. when he was four and the Senator apparently never considered himself a Great White Northian.

Now he plans to “renounce” his Canadianhood, presumably to make his political life easier.  That’s fine for him, but I hope he ponders just how lucky he is that his life didn’t go the other way.  If Ted Cruz’s mom were a Canadian who brought him into the world in Fargo, and then moved him as a toddler back to Canada, he would be up to his toque in problems with the IRS.

Assume our alternate-world Ted Cruz – we’ll call him Canada Cruz — had become a successful Canadian lawyer and politician.  Given his $3.5 million net worth, he certainly would have opened substantial bank and brokerage accounts in Canada.  He would have significant retirement plan assets.  And, like many accidental Americans, it would probably never have occurred to him that his American citizenship obligated him to file FBAR reports and U.S. tax returns reporting his Canadian income.

The Treasury might claim half the balance of his financial accounts for each year he failed to file Form TD F 90-22.1 — or a mere $10,000 per year if they decided his violation wasn’t “willful.”    If he attempted to participate in the OVDI “amnesty” program to clean things up, he would probably be told to cough up “only” 25% of the balances in all of his Canadian accounts, and to file US returns paying tax on “all tax years” covered by the disclosure.   Assuming $3 million of his $3.5 million net worth represents financial assets, Canada Cruz would have to fork over at least $750,000 as a result of being an accidental American.  Just in case you wonder why people might renounce U.S. citizenship.

Tax Professor Allison Christians explains (via TaxProf):

US citizens abroad now understand that discovering ties to the US means discovering a world of obligations and consequences flowing from citizenship that you were expected to know and obey. Ignorance of the law being no excuse, the punishments range from the merely ridiculous–many times any tax that would have ever been due–to the infuriating: life savings wiped out and many future tax savings sponsored by your home government, such as in education or health savings plans, treated as offshore trusts and therefore confiscated by the US. Moreover there is no ready escape hatch for the newly discovered and unwanted US citizenship: five years of full tax reporting compliance must be documented, appointments must be made with officials, fees must be remitted, interviews must be conducted, and in some cases exit taxes must be paid. If some in Congress get their way, renunciation could even mean life-time banishment from the US someday soon.

If U.S. politicians had any sense of shame or capacity for introspection, they would take heed of Canada Cruz’s problems and stop U.S. tax law at the border.  A humane and sensible IRS would create an easy way for accidental citizens to come into compliance short of financial ruin.  As it is, Canada Cruz is just screwed.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/29/2013: If the embezzler had used the money for figurines, would they sue Precious Moments?

Monday, July 29th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130729-1Blame the casino for the thief?  A Nebraska business may be taking an oddly-forgiving view towards employee theft.  The Associated Press reports that the Colombo Candy and Tobacco Wholesale Company (now there’s a product combo for everyone) declined to press charges against a former employee for allegedly stealing $4.1 million.  Instead they are suing a Casino for leading her unto temptation.

But the Nebraska Department of Revenue is less willing to let bygones be bygones, reports KETV.com:

The Nebraska Department of Revenue and the Sarpy County attorney have decided to pursue criminal charges against 54-year-old Caroline Richardson of Gretna.

Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said this is a case he doesn’t see every day.

“I think it’s interesting for people to know that stolen money is considered income and has to be reported on your income tax,” Polikov said.  “If you don’t report it and don’t pay it, you’ll be prosecuted for it.”

In a civil filing where Richardson is identified as “Jane Doe,” Colombo Candy argued the blame should be less on Richardson and more on an Iowa Casino.

A more cynical view would be that the candy company knows that the accused thief has no money, so it’s going for the deep pockets.

 

Paul Neiffer, Help Prevent SE tax on CRP Rents!  Paul wants CRP recipients to help fund an appeal of the recent Tax Court Morehouse case, holding CRP income to be self-employment income.

The Morehouse case needs be appealed because the case sets a bad precedent for all owners of CRP across the country. Anyone who fails to treat CRP as self-employment income is subject to penalty for underpayment of Federal tax.

However, appeals cost money, and the dollars at risk for Morehouse personally (only $6,000) just aren’t enough for him to justify paying for the appeal. It is important enough that I want to spread the word, and request my readers who have ground in CRP to share in the cost.

If you have CRP ground and want to help the cause, Paul tells you how.

 

TaxGrrrl, Bolt Strikes At Diamond League Games, Says UK Races Hinge On Tax Laws 

Usain Bolt said he wouldn’t race in the U.K. after the Olympics unless they changed their tax laws… and they did, extending the laws in place for the Olympics for the Diamond Games.

Tough luck if you aren’t famous, I guess.

 

Phil Hodgen is launching Web-Based Seminar: U.S. Tax Solutions for Non-Filers Abroad.  It looks like a great resource for the innocents abroad caught up in the FBAR fiasco.

 

Jack Townsend,  Must a Defendant Prove Innocence of Uncharged Crime to Reverse Wrongful Conviction?  That’s insane.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 81.  They’ll keep calling it a “phoney” scandal, but the Inspector General still says otherwise.  So did the President, until it became awkward.

Instapundit:

JACK LEW:  There’s No IRS Scandal, But I Won’t Say Whether I Talked To Wilkins About Targeting.

Those who keep saying there’s no scandal here need to acknowledge that the IRS admitted targeting conservative groups months ago.

 

Kay Bell, Scholarships and grants get better grades than borrowing and tax breaks as ways to pay college costs

William Perez, IRS Update for July 26, 2013

 

Joseph Henchman, Massachusetts to Have Second Highest Cigarette Tax, Rare Tax on Computer Services, Higher Gas Tax (Tax Policy Blog)

Brian Strahle, RECENT CALIFORNIA LLC FEE ISSUES AND WARNING FOR NONFILERS:  HERE COMES THE NOTICE!!  California is looking for nickels under your sofa cushions.

 

Christopher Bergin, Our Secretive Senate. (Tax Analysts Blog).  Not a fan of the 50-year memory hole for tax reform ideas.

Peter Reilly, Why Tax Reform Is Impossible

 

Jim Maule, Tax Law and National Defense: Hush Now!

Linda Beale, Proposals for Cutting the IRS Budget.

 

Janet Novack, U.S. Seeks PNC, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Records To Find Tax Cheats–From Norway   Look out, Decorah.

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Tax Roundup, 7/17/2013: Stories of wounded jaywalkers. And: checking in on Rashia.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

taxanalystslogoMarie Sapirie of Tax Analysts has an excellent piece about how the IRS offshore account enforcement program treats the thousands of ordinary Americans abroad — and many green card holders living in the U.S. —  as presumptive tax criminals when they try to remedy foot-fault paperwork violations in reporting offshore accounts.  She tells the stories of four “minnows” who tried to remedy inadvertent minor violations of the foreign account rules.  Get a load of the advice they gave “Taxpayer 3:”

The taxpayer, like many others, sought help from a congressional representative in reaching a satisfactory resolution with the IRS. The response that the lawmaker received from the IRS — that the taxpayer could renounce U.S. citizenship — was disappointing. “I lived in the U.S. for 30 years; I never was treated unfairly for 30 years. I was proud of it. And here the IRS is telling me to renounce my citizenship
because it may be the best solution considering my situation,” the taxpayer said.

When the IRS is telling people to expatriate themselves, something is very wrong.

The article discusses the headaches involved in clearing up FBAR reporting, including the delays caused because IRS agents aren’t allowed to make international phone calls.

The IRS should imitate programs for state non-filers for FBAR violations: allow taxpayers to come in penalty-free anytime if they file disclose their accounts and amend returns for five years back to report any unreported offshore income.  Time to stop shooting the jaywalkers.

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Rashia Wilson in happier times.

While Doug Shulman’s IRS was busy shooting jaywalkers, the grifters were running wild.  TampaBay.com has an update on the woman who boasted on her Facebook page that she was the “queen of IRS tax fraud”: IRS loss to fraud’s ‘first lady’ may have hit $20 million:

Rashia Wilson may have duped the IRS out of as much as $20 million before her arrest on stolen identity refund fraud charges.

That’s according to a court document, filed in advance of her sentencing today, that estimates the government’s loss at $7 million to $20 million.

What kind of criminal mastermind could break through the internal controls at IRS to loot that kind of money?

“YES I’M RASHIA THE QUEEN OF IRS TAX FRAUD,” reads a May posting on her Facebook page described in the affidavits. “IM’ A MILLIONAIRE FOR THE RECORD SO IF U THINK INDICTING ME WILL BE EASY IT WONT I PROMISE U!”

Well done, Shulman!  Criminal masterminds like Ms. Wilson are robbing the Treasury of $5 billion annually, and you are busy telling taxpayers trying to come into compliance to renounce their citizenship.

Prior tax update coverage: Identity theft tax fraud: women’s work?

Jason Dinesen, Taxpayer Identity Theft — Part 16. “The IRS still has not processed Brian and Wendy’s final joint tax return for 2010.”

 

Inspector General finds “willful” rummaging through political “candidate or donor” records, but Justice Department declines to prosecute.  This is a big deal.  All we know is that it is sometime after 2006.  Failing to prosecute that is shocking; it’s hard to imagine a good excuse.  Tax Analysts reports today ($link) that IRS denies any of its employees were involved.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 69

Kay Bell, Justice Department refusal to prosecute IRS disclosure of taxpayer information prompts inquiry from GOP Senator

Janet Novack,  Former IRS Auditor Gets Probation For Taxpayer Info Leak, Conflict Of Interest.  “Dennis Lerner admitted disclosing information about an audit of
Commerzbank AG and seeking a job with the German bank even as he was still negotiating a $210 settlement with it.”

 

William Perez, Same Sex Marriage, the Windsor Case and Estate Planning

Paul Neiffer, Capital Gains Questions on Selling Farmland

Missouri Tax Guy, Choose your tax pro? A rundown on the difference between CPAs, Enrolled Agents and other preparers.

 

Kay Bell, IRS will be fully staffed July 22 as furlough day is canceled

TaxGrrrl, IRS To Remain Open For Business As Furlough Day Is Canceled

 

Joseph Thorndike, Tax Expenditures Should Be Attacked Head On, Not Through the Backdoor (Tax Analysts Blog).

David Brunori, Immigrants are Good for Us (Tax Analysts Blog)

Howard Gleckman, Will Obamacare Delays Encourage Health Exchange Cheating?  (TaxV0x). Just because we can’t verify that you’re not cheating won’t result in massive cheating, according to Mr. Gleckman.  Let’s ask Rashia about that.

Russ Fox, The Most Ridiculous Tax Ever.  He’s talking about the insane “PCORI” fee.

Tax Justice Blog, North Carolina Facing Disastrous New Tax Laws.   The “disatrous” changes include reduction of the individual rate to 5.75% (currently 7.75%) and the corporate rate to 5% (from 6.9%).  If that’s a disaster, here’s hoping for one in Iowa.

Elizabeth Malm, More Details Released on North Carolina Compromise Plan and North Carolina House, Senate, and Governor Announce Tax Agreement (Tax Policy Blog).

 

Jack Townsend,  UBS Client, 78 Years Old, Sentenced to One Year and One Day

There are no athiests in taxholes.  Economist who dodged tax due to ‘religious objection’ gets four years behind bars (New York Post)

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/24/2013: Officially summer edition. And: catching up on the IRS scandal.

Monday, June 24th, 2013 by Joe Kristan
Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how many times he visited the White House.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how many times he visited the White House.

As the world slows down for summer, so does the IRS scandal.  The TaxProf has only a half-dozen items in yesterday’s daily roundup of IRS scandal stories.  Where are we at?

There’s no smoking gun, like an e-mail from President Obama to Doug Shulman telling him to thwart the Tea Party.  The mystery now appears to be the level of involvement of IRS personnel in Washington, who appear to have closely monitored the handling of the Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications, while  left-leaning applications flew through the system.  While some folks are in a hurry to bury the issue, there are plenty of remaining issues, as Eliana Johnson recounts:

Who at the IRS, for instance, developed the intrusive and exhaustive  questions that were sent to the tea-party groups? Why did so many of those groups have to wait years for their applications to be processed, and why are many more still waiting? Who specifically were the IRS officials in Washington directing the Cincinnati agents targeting the tea-party organizations?

It’s also become clear that the political culture of the IRS was hostile to Tea Parties at the top levels.  IRS defenders have pointed to Doug Shulman’s status as a Bush appointee as evidence of IRS neutrality, but it turns out that he has a long left-side political historyThe same goes for Holly Paz, a high-ranking IRS lawyer who had a key role in overseeing the non-approval process.   The best argument that can be made on behalf of the agency is that because the political culture was so far to the left, they didn’t realize how biased they were being — they actually could have believed Tea Party applications were political, while “progressive” ones were just good people trying to do good things.  That hardly inspires confidence.

While former Commissioner visited the IRS a lot — the exact number of visits isn’t clear, but it was more than Shulman could precisely remember — it appears his t0p aide went to the White House 2 or 3 times weekly.  It’s hard to imagine that slow-walking Tea Party applications would require that level of Administration involvement, but it does show a disturbing level of day-to-day administration involvement with the workings of the tax agency.  It best, it reflects how the IRS has become a multi-portfolio superagency stretching across the government, which is a terrible thing by itself.

 

Andrew Mitchel,  Mandatory Electronic Filing for FBARs Coming Soon.  Remember, they are due this week.  The Treasury (inexcusably) says the timely-mailed, timely-filed rule doesn’t apply to foreign financial account disclosure filings, so you should mail them by today to beat the June 30 deadline.

Roger McEowen, U.S. Tax Court Says that CRP Payments Are Subject To  Self-Employment Tax In the Hands of a Non-Farmer

- In a  stunning reversal of course, the U.S. Tax Court  has agreed with the IRS that  the signing of a CRP contract coupled with compliance with the contract  provisions (whether personally or via an agent) results in the party signing  the contract being in the business of participating in the CRP and engaging in an “environmentally friendly farming operation.”  The result was  that the CRP payments were subject to self-employment tax.

Paul Neiffer, Your CRP Income May Be Subject to SE Tax: “Under the ruling of this case, it appears that almost any farmland enrolled in CRP will be subject to SE tax (at least in the Eighth Circuit) unless the case gets appealed and overruled which may take a
couple of years to resolve.”

 

Jason Dinesen, Commentary on the IRS’s E-Services Decision:

The IRS says few practitioners are using E-Services (I think they said only 10% of power of attorney requests come through that system).

Still, in the year 2013, it seems more logical to encourage more practitioners to use E-Services instead of closing it down and taking away the electronic option completely.

Yet another bad IRS decision.  Meanwhile, TaxGrrrl reports that  Defying Directive, IRS Set To Pay Out $70 Million In Employee Bonuses.   Priorities.

Russ Fox, Onwards and Upwards into the 20th Century!

Christopher Bergin, Another Bad Day for the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)

William Perez, Small Business Week: Deducting Health Insurance Benefits

Peter Reilly, Tea Party Patriots — Federalist Papers — Really ?

Tax Policy Blog, Tanning Tax Not So Hot

Tax Justice Blog, A Reminder About Film Tax Credits: All that Glitters is not Gold

Kay Bell, Amazon heading to Florida, leaving Minnesota

Kim Reuben, Andrew Cuomo’s Lesson in What Not to do With Rising Tax Revenues (TaxVox)

Robert D. Flach, TAX RETURN ERRORS:

Using a tax preparation software package is no substitute for knowledge of tax law.  This applies to paid preparers as well as individual taxpayers.  I sometimes wonder how many alleged tax professionals, especially those employed by the “fast food” tax preparation chains, are really nothing more than data entry clerks. 

Garbage in, garbage out.

 

The Cubs losing ways:  IRS Continues Its Scrutiny Of Leveraged Partnerships: 2009 Sale Of Chicago Cubs Finds Itself In Service’s Crosshairs   Fortunately for Cubs fans, it’s the seller’s problem.

Good luck with that. Billionaire Seeks $186 Million Tax Refund, Claims IRS Biased By ‘Politically Charged Atmosphere’ (Janet Novack)

Gee, who saw this coming?  Governor signs bill paying off Honey Creek Resort debt.  Operating resorts is one more thing the State isn’t very good at.

 

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But how can we slap money launderers on the wrist if we don’t throw the book at widows?

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130426-1Absolutely stunning and wonderful news out of Florida in a highly-publicized offshore account case.  From the Palm Beach Daily News:

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp sentenced Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach to one year probation Thursday on tax charges, before revoking the sentence five seconds later and sending her out of the courtroom a free woman.

Ryskamp chastised the government for prosecuting the 79-year-old woman when 38,000 other people in the same situation were given immunity.

The woman had inherited Swiss bank accounts from her wealthy husband.  Her lawyer had tried to get her into the offshore disclosure program, but the IRS turned her down because her name was on a list provided by Swiss bank UBS.  She pleaded guilty to two false return charges.  The judge blasted the government for bringing criminal charges:

Based on these facts, did it ever occur to the government to dismiss these charges,” Ryskamp said. “Instead, the government decided it had to make a felon out of this woman?”

That’s been the IRS approach to offshore accounts all along.  The IRS has done a terrible job distinguishing the bad guys from inadvertent violators, hitting people who have come forward with accidental violations with ridiculous penalties, rather than welcoming them into compliance — while often letting bigger fish swim away.  But the government had no apologies to offer:

Mark Daly, from the Department of Justice Tax Division, told Ryskamp that Curran’s husband, Mortimer, was a “very wealthy man” and shouldn’t have turned to a foreign national for an interpretation of U.S. Law.”

Mortimer is beyond the prosecutors’ reach, so burn the widow!  In addition to setting her free, the judge urged her to apply for a presidential pardon, which he promised to endorse.

Related:

Jack Townsend,  Sentencing Judge on Offshore Prosecution Chastises the Government for Lack of Judgment

Bloomberg News,  Widow Gets Less Than Minute of Probation in U.S. Tax Case

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Tax Roundup, 11/6/2012: Election day! And a flawed Plan B.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Brutal Assault on Reason Watch.*  Today is election day, so we’ll run one more rundown of election-related news.  We”ll start with my post from last week at IowaBiz.com, Tax stakes for entrepreneurs next Tuesday.  An excerpt:

Mitt Romney’s tax plan is built around a 20% across-the-board individual tax rate cut, to be paid for by a eliminated deductions and tax breaks. He would also repeal the 3.8% investment income tax. 

These individual rates are important to entrepreneurs because most business are now organized as “pass-throughs” — typically as S corporations or LLCs taxed as partnerships. Income of pass-through businesses is taxed on their owners’ 1040s, so the top individual rate is also the top rate on business income. The Romney approach, with its 28% top rate, takes the tax law in a very different direction than the Obama 44%+ top rate.

 Also:

Kay Bell,  Ways and Means, Senate Finance incumbents should hold tax-writing seats

Robert D. Flach commands, VOTE!

Martin A. Sullivan,  The Post-Election Fiscal Mess (Tax.com)

Joseph Thorndike,  Soda Taxes and the Case for a GOP Majority (Tax.com)

Joseph Henchman,  State and Local Ballot Initiatives to Watch (Tax Policy Blog)

TaxGrrrl,   More Reasons to Vote: Election Day Freebies and Promos

*The “Brutal Assault on Reason Watch” is my roundup of election-related tax posts.  The title comes from Arnold Kling’s description of political campaigns:

To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season.

So if your post is listed in the Brutal Assault on Reason Watch, it doesn’t mean your post was a brutal assault on reason (though it happens).  It means that it had something to do with election season.

 

Richard Morrison,  Chart of the Day: High Earners and Business Income

 

Don’t ask if you’re not ready to tell.  If you inquire about participating in the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure program and you let slip who you are, you’d better be prepared to follow through.  From Tax Analysts ($link):

Rebecca Sparkman, CI director (operations policy and support), said that CI checks to ensure that taxpayers who undergo a pre-clearance check for acceptance into the voluntary disclosure programs follow through with disclosure. “Those [taxpayers] are suspect, and we are looking at those who decided not to continue to come through. Will it be Criminal Investigation? I don’t know; it could be a civil audit,” she said at the annual meeting of the California Tax Bar and California Tax Policy Conference in Coronado, Calif.

The IRS is long overdue for a standing simple offshore amnesty, like many states have for business non-filers.  If a taxpayers who have not been contacted by the IRS would file, say, five years of FBARS, asset disclosures and amended returns, and owe less than some generous threshold of tax — maybe $250,000 — then offshore sins would be forgiven and they can get on with their lives.  Maybe next Commissioner.

 

Many talents, but tax compliance wasn’t one of them.  A man with multiple skills will have a restricted arena in which to use them for many years.  An Ohio attorney last week received an 85-month sentence after being convicted of tax offenses, false statements and witness tampering.  From a Department of Justice press release:

According to the indictment, which was returned on June 23, 2010, and the evidence admitted at trial, Rick Matsa, who in addition to being an attorney was also an architect, a real estate broker, and a licensed minister in Ohio, created and operated several nominee entities in order to disguise and conceal his income and assets from the IRS. The false trust return charges relate to filings for at least five separate trust entities during the tax years 2003 to 2005.   In fact, the evidence at trial showed that he had been filing similarly false returns for the trusts dating back to 1990.   Each of the trusts reported receiving significant amounts of interest income each year, yet no income tax was ever reported as due because the trust tax returns fraudulently claimed deductions for distributions purportedly paid annually to a foreign beneficiary.

At least he wasn’t an accountant.  Plans like this can work great, until the IRS notices them, and then they don’t work at all.  Plan B also went badly:

 The evidence at trial further showed that after learning of the federal grand jury investigation into his business activities in May of 2006, Rick Matsa, together with Loula Matsa and others, conspired to obstruct justice by concealing evidence from the grand jury, making false statements to the grand jury, creating false documents, tampering with witnesses and lying to federal investigators.  

Rick Matsa’s tenant, P. Maria Galloway, the owner of an art gallery located next door to Matsa’s law firm, also testified after pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice.   Galloway testified that she signed numerous documents at Rick Matsa’s direction, including federal income tax returns for Matsa’s law firm and a number of his nominee entities, which Matsa used as part of his scheme to obstruct the IRS, and that she made false statements to agents and the grand jury during the investigation.

I bet that stuff wasn’t in her lease.

The Moral?  People who think trusts have magical powers to make your taxable income go away are mistaken.  You might be able to fool the IRS for awhile, but with enough time the IRS is likely to figure it out.  When Plan B involves getting your tenant to sign false papers for you, maybe it’s time to look at a plea deal.

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Tax Roundup, 7/10/2012: A truly Rich expatriate; the tax effects of executive politics; just park it by the pole.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Lynnley Browning at Reuters reports that “Denise Rich Renounces U.S. Citizenship, Will Save Tens Of Millions In Tax Dollars,”  prompting millions to wonder, who is Denise Rich?  Celine Dion fans (I’ve never met one, but I know they are out there) will know her as the songwriter behind Celine’s “Love is On the Way,” but political junkies know her as the wife of Marc Rich, the former fugitive billionaire who stopped running when Denise pulled enough strings and spread enough cash around to get him a pardon at the end of the Clinton administration.

Her move prompted some folks to tell her not to let the door hit her on the way out, and perhaps anybody who enables Celine Dion deserves a little venom.  But we should ponder for a moment why money is fleeing the country like deposits fleeing a Greek bank.  Mark Steyn tells us why celebrating her departure is unseemly:

… all this “what sort of red-blooded American renounces her citizenship over tax?” stuff is a wee bit much. It is the Government of the United States, uniquely in the civilized world, that binds citizenship to tax. An American who falls in love with an Uzbek or takes a job helping starving Third World children in Southern Sudan remains liable for US taxation and has to file US paperwork that is, in fact, more onerous than that required of US residents, and is about to get more so…

Most countries tax you if you live within their borders, some tax you if you live elsewhere but earn money within their jurisdiction, but only America claims the right to tax you simply for being American – even if you, say, live in Belgium but drive over the border to work in Luxembourg every day. This is unique to the United States: Spain taxes you if you’re a resident of Spain, Slovenia taxes you if you’re a resident of Slovenia, but America taxes you if you’re an American who’s working as a teacher in Gabon. You’re at permanent risk of double-taxation, and the fines for minor and accidental infraction are arbitrary and confiscatory.

As I say, no other developed country does this – although Eritrea does.

On January 1st 2013, all this gets worse. The FATCAT act (technically, it’s FATCA, but we all get the acronymic message) makes it not worth a foreign bank’s while to do business with Americans. I don’t just mean Mitt Romney’s chums in the Cayman Islands, but an American of modest means on a two-year secondment to Hong Kong requiring a small checking account with which to pay local utility bills – or a small businessman attempting to expand his distribution in Canada.

IRS Commissioner Shulman’s shoot-the-jaywalkers approach to offshore tax compliance, combined with half-baked populist legislation against “the rich” that punishes Americans abroad and businesses for committing everyday finance, is quietly bleeding our economy with a thousand little cuts.  Fabulously-wealthy people like Denise Rich can take a hike, but most of us are stuck here.  We can berate her as “unpatriotic” for leaving, but when you get that $10,000 fine for being one-day late in reporting that bank account you inherited from Uncle Hans in the old country, she’ll have the last laugh.

The TaxProf has moreUpdate: Matt Welch on the Dark Side of Anti-”Swiss Bank Account” Politics”

But we can still move within the country:  Did a Maryland Tax Increase Cause Taxpayers to Flee the State?  (Russ Fox)

Nanette Byrnes: Study: Companies of Republican CEOs pay more tax than Democrats’ (Tax Break).  Why?  One theory is that Democratic CEOs would tend to be in industries that play the government for tax breaks, like low-income housing and renewable fuels, and that Democrats are more comfortable with politicians playing God with the economy.  Unfortunately, the desire  to meddle with the economy via tax breaks is one thing both parties can agree on.

But we knew that before it become official: It’s Official: Tax Gridlock Until After November Election (Janet Novack)

William Perez, Tax Reform Proposal from the Bipartisan Policy Center

Blaming the accountant: Rihanna Files Suit, Alleges Financial Mismanagement Resulted in Tax Audit (TaxGrrrl)

Anybody could lose track of $800,000 in singles.  Take this hard-working Ohio attorney described by Cincinnati.com:

Sparta attorney Meredith “Larry” Lawrence will be sentenced in October on federal tax evasion charges for failing to report income from various sources – including Racers Gentleman’s Club in Sparta.

A jury found him guilty Friday on three counts of filing a false tax return for three consecutive years, starting in 2005.

Attorney by day, strip club operator by night?  “Gentlemen’s clubs” tend to be open late.  Maybe he was just sleep deprived?

During the two week trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine Leonhard described how federal agents found $800,000 in Lawrence’s safety deposit boxes.

She described how fees collected from women who stripped at the club would be stuffed in a white envelope and delivered to Lawrence once a week. Strippers were independent contractors required to pay “house fees” to dance at the club. The strippers even had to pay a parking fee.

“Parking fee?” Yes, the glamor has truly gone out of show business.

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Tax Roundup, June 28, 2012: Obamacare Judgement Day and other masterminded schemes

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Flickr image courtesy Evil Erin under Creative Commons license.

Haven’t filed your FBAR Form TD F 90.22-1 for foreign financial accounts?  File it now!  It’s due June 30.

Today is Judgement Day for the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare.  Key tax-related provisions on the line:

- A .9% surtax on single taxpayer wages over $200,000 and joint wages over $250,000, effective in 2013.

- A 3.8 % surtax on “unearned” income – interest, dividends, capital gains and “passive” income from pass-through business activities, when AGI exceeds $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers, effective in 2013.

- A $2,500 limit in flexible spending account contributions, effective in 2013

- Increase in the AGI floor for medical deductions starting in 2013 from 7.5% of AGI to 10%.  The increase will be deferred through 2016 for taxpayers over age 65.

- The IRS-enforced penalties for failure to buy health insurance, effective in 2014.

Of course, the 10% tax on tanning booths has been in effect for some time.  We will post on the decision later today.

Why are capital gains taxed at a lower rate? The Tax Policy Blog has a post appropriately-titled “Why Capital Gains are taxed at a Lower Rate.”

First, the tax is not adjusted for inflation, so any appreciation of assets is taxed at the nominal instead of the real value. This means investors must pay tax not only on the real return but also on the inflation created by the Federal Reserve.

Second, the capital gains tax is merely part of a long line of federal taxation of the same dollar of income.  Wages are first taxed by payroll and personal income taxes, then again by the corporate income tax if one chooses to invest in corporate equities, and then again when those investments pay off in the form of dividends and capital gains.  This puts corporations at a disadvantage relative to pass through business entities, whose owners pay personal income tax on distributed profits, instead of taxes on corporate income, capital gains, and dividends.  One way corporations mitigate this excessive taxation is through debt rather than equity financing, since interest is deductible.  This creates perverse incentives to over leverage, contributing to the boom and bust cycle.

Finally, a capital gains tax, like nearly all of the federal tax code, is a tax on future consumption.  Future personal consumption, in the form of savings, is taxed, while present consumption is not. By favoring present over future consumption, savings are discouraged, which decreases future available capital and lowers long term growth.

The capital gain rate is the biggest reason why the highest-income taxpayers have a lower effective rate.  The reason their income is high is usually becuase they have a once-in-a-lifetime windfall from the sale of a business or asset.  It is the biggest reason used for the push for the inane “Buffett rule.”  As the Tax Policy Blog post points out, though, the U.S. already has one of the highest effective tax rates on capital gains amoung the major economies, behind only Italy, Denmark and France.

Tax Court Denies Charitable Deduction for Home Demolished by Fire Department in Training Exercise (TaxProf)  The Tax Court once again held that allowing a fire department to burn down a home is not the same thing as giving a home to the fire department.  The right to burn a building is a very different thing than full ownership of the building.  The decision should be no surprise, as we discussed back in February.  More from Anthony Nitti.

Why you should use the EFTPS program to monitor your payroll tax deposits online, even if you outsource your payroll function: Operator of Payroll Companies Charged in North Carolina with Federal Fraud and Money Laundering Crimes.  If your payroll service steals money  you set aside for payroll taxes, the IRS still wants you to pay up. 
 
 
 
 
Jason Dinesen, Planning for Alternative Minimum Tax in 2012.  If Congress doesn’t re-enact the “AMT Patch,” you might have an $8000 or so tax increase due in April.
 
Watching the watchdogs:  Tax Court Finds IRS Compliance Officer Liable for Civil Fraud Penalty (Jack Townsend).  She claimed deductions that the court decided were bogus.
 
 
Is it right to call somebody who organizes a really stupid crime a “mastermind?” From Kansascity.com:

A California man pleaded guilty Tuesday to a tax fraud scheme that federal prosecutors allege was masterminded by a Kansas City man.

The plea of John V. Perdido of Temecula, Calif., is the second among 14 defendants in the alleged conspiracy to receive nearly $100 million in fraudulent refunds from the Internal Revenue Service. Perdido received a refund of $805,749 and spent more than half of it on property and a car in the Philippines among other things.

The alleged conspirators filed for big federal refunds based on the idea that we all have huge amounts of cash on deposit with the federal government in our names, which we can tap if we file the right tax forms. Another Professor Moriarty, that mastermind.
 

 

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IRS finally realizes that not all taxpayers with offshore accounts are notorious tax cheats

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

After years of treating every American abroad like a high-rolling tax cheat for simply having a normal financial life, it has finally dawned on the IRS that not everybody with an offshore bank account is a tax cheat.  Janet Novack explains:

The IRS said today that beginning Sept 1., those expatriates, dual citizens and green card holders living abroad who owe less than $1,500 a year on unfiled 1040s will be eligible for special relief. They will only have to file three years of back tax returns. And while they’ll have to file six years of back FBARS, they won’t get hit with an FBAR penalty. Moreover, participants in certain foreign tax deferred retirement plans such as the Canadian RRSPs ( like IRAs) will be able to exclude the deferred income from their back returns.  In the past, these foreign residents were stuck  because they hadn’t applied for income tax deferral on a timely basis.

This is long overdue.  Many expatriate citizens lived a normal life, marrying overseas and opening bank accounts like they would at home, with no idea that they were required to file form TD F 90-22.1 if their account balances exceeded $10,000.  There are severe financial penalties for non-filing, but honest citizens — most of whom owed little or no tax — found themselves treated like international money launderers when they signed up for the so-called amnesties for international non-filers.  The IRS, caught be surprise at the wide interest in the program, sadly understaffed it and enforced it with what I call a “shooting jaywalkers” mentality.

Ms. Novack passes on a story of how the new rules will help:

Robert E. McKenzie, a tax partner at the Chicago law firm of Arnstein & Lehr and a Forbes contributor, offered an example of one of his clients who he believes will be helped enormously by the new relief.  She is a retired widow, has lived in Canada for 30 years, has $150,000 in an RRSP and another $150,000 or so in other Canadian accounts. Under the 2011 OVDP, the IRS had demanded a $75,000 FBAR penalty from her. Now, she should be excused from any penalty.

Why the IRS didn’t have a program like this from the start of its offshore enforcement pogrom is beyond me.  Better late than never, though.   Still, they have yet to set up a similar program for U.S. residents with similar FBAR problems, such as green card holders who didn’t realize that they needed to tell the IRS about their bank accounts back home, or American citizens who have inherited bank accounts from foreign relatives.  I guess when it comes to providing relief to innocent taxpayers, the IRS feels that it has to dispense justice with an eyedropper.

The details of the new program are in IR-2012-65, taking effect on September 1.  The IRS will apparenly announce ahead of that time details, like where and how to file under the new program.  Meanwhile, Americans abroad with offshore accounts can breathe easier and watch for the additional details to emerge.  Meanwhile, remember that 2011 Form TD F 90.22-1 is due June 30, and that a bunch of new offshore reporting requirements for financial assets not in bank accounts also took effect for 2011 1040s.

Related:

Jack Towsend: IRS Announces Penalty Mitigation for Super Minnow US Taxpayers Living Abroad; RRSP (6/26/12).

Prior Tax Update coverage:

Shooting jaywalkers, wrist-tapping GE

Wall Street Journal coverage of the great IRS jaywalker hunt

Associated Press, here are your tax cheats.

Shooting jaywalkers so we can slap the real criminals on the wrist

Darth Shulman to foreign account holders: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

 

 

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All offshore taxpayers look alike to Shulman

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Jack Townsend explains the fundamental problem with how the IRS treats offshore taxpayers:

I wonder if the Commissioner really understands how misfocused the program really is.  Does he really understand the difference between whales and minnows, both of which he sweeps into the same net?  Punishment should not be the same for both.  Yet, the IRS offers a program of one size fits all, where the penalties [are the same]  for the whales (most of whom are really bad guys in terms of tax noncompliance) and the minnows (most of who are not).

Does he understand?  If the worst commissioner ever does understand, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

Related: Shooting jaywalkers so we can slap the real criminals on the wrist

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Justice is served on another international tax evader!

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Whenever the IRS trumpets an international tax crackdown, credulous reporters take for granted that it’s only evil rich tax cheats that get swept up.  Phil Hodgen knows better, telling the story of a taxpayer who came to the U.S. with a work permit, but left ruined by Commissioner Shulman’s jaywalker hunt.

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Quick hits

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by Joe Kristan

There’s much good stuff out there on taxes that I would to spend all day reading and posting about.  Tax returns pay better, though, so here are links to better reading for those of you with more persistence and longer attention spans:

Finally, Andrew Mitchel shows how voluntary expatriations have soared in the wake of the IRS foreign compliance pogrom, with this chart:

http://intltax.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54fb13f5188340168e8ff8a37970c-pi

Courtesy Andrew Mitchel

When you fire into the crowd, the crowd will scatter.

 

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Judge intervenes in jaywalker shooting

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

A 64-year old Pennsylvania man, a Mr. Purpura, avoided deportation for a paperwork foot-fault thanks to a sensible Federal judge. The judge threw out a plea agreement that would have led to the man’s deportation for… well, we’ll let the Judge explain:

An investigation by the United States into the criminal conduct of another person led to the examination of Purpura’s income tax returns. It was determined that his tax returns incorrectly certified that Purpura did not have any financial interest in bank accounts in his native country of Italy or in any foreign nation during the two years in question, 1990 and 1991. In fact, Mr. Purpura did maintain bank accounts during that period of time in Italy. However, it was also determined that these mis-statements did not result in any tax loss to the United States. The investigation further established that Purpura was not involved in any way in the criminal conduct of the other person.

So the guy paid all his taxes — he just failed to file the FBAR paperwork. He pleaded guilty to to paperwork charge, and deportation proceedings got underway, much to Mr. Purpura’s surprise and consternation. He was, after all, married, a permanent U.S. legal resident who had immigrated from Italy long ago, and had no other legal troubles.
Jack Townsend has the whole story.

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