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.
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.
Paul Neiffer, Estimated 2014 Inflation Adjusted Tax Items
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:
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)