Former Tax Court Judge Diane L. Kroupa Sentenced in Connection with Tax Evasion Matter

We have previously blogged on the criminal tax proceedings related to former US Tax Court Judge Kroupa (see here and here). In October 2016, Judge Kroupa pleaded guilty to multiple tax criminal charges related to her tax returns and interactions with the Internal Revenue Service. Based on sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence was between 30‒37 months. Judge Kroupa and the government submitted filings on the appropriate sentence, in which Judge Kroupa provided detailed reasons why she believed the court should impose a sentence of 20 months imprisonment. These filings can be found here and here. According to a report in today’s BNA Daily Tax Report, the court sentenced Judge Kroupa to 34 months in prison and ordered her to pay $457,000 in restitution, which is owed jointly with her former husband. She was also sentenced to three years of supervised release. Judge Kroupa’s former husband was sentenced to 24 months in prison and one year of supervised release.

Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism

In October 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revised the Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) 8.6.1.4.4 to provide IRS Appeals Division (Appeals) with discretion to invite representatives from the IRS Examination Division (Exam) and IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) to the Appeals conference. Many tax practitioners opposed this change, believing that it undermines the independence of Appeals and may lead to a breakdown in the settlement process.

In May 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation submitted comments recommending the reinstatement of the long-standing Manual provision regarding the limited circumstances for attendance by representatives from Exam and Counsel at settlement conferences. Additionally, the Tax Section’s comments were critical of the practice whereby some Appeals Team Case Leaders (ATCLs) in traditional Appeals cases are “strongly encouraging” IRS Exam and the taxpayer to conduct settlement negotiations similar to Rapid Appeals or Fast Track Settlement, such that many taxpayers do not feel they can decline such overtures. The Tax Section comments suggested that the use of Rapid Appeals Process and Fast Track Settlement should be a voluntary decision of both the taxpayer and IRS Exam and the use of these processes should be the exception rather than the rule. Continue Reading

The “Issue of First Impression” Defense to Penalties

The Internal Revenue Code (Code) contains various provisions regarding the imposition of penalties and additions to tax. The accuracy-related penalty under section 6662(a), which imposes a penalty equal to 20 percent of the amount of any understatement of tax, is commonly asserted on the grounds that the taxpayer was negligent, disregarded rules or regulations, or had a substantial understatement of tax. Over the years, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has become increasingly aggressive in asserting penalties and generally requires that taxpayers affirmatively demonstrate why penalties should not apply, as opposed to the IRS first developing the necessary facts to support the imposition of penalties.

There are many different defenses available to taxpayers depending on the type and grounds upon which the penalty is asserted. These defenses include the reasonable basis and adequate disclosure defense, the substantial authority defense, and the reasonable cause defense.

Another defense available to taxpayers is what we will refer to as the “issue of first impression” defense. The Tax Court’s recent opinion in Peterson v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 22, reconfirms the availability of this defense. In that case, the substantive issue was the application of section 267(a) to employers and employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) participants. The court, in a published T.C. opinion (see here for our prior discussion of the types of Tax Court opinions) held in the IRS’s favor on the substantive issue but rejected the IRS’s assertion of an accuracy-related penalty for a substantial understatement of tax on the ground that it had previously declined to impose a penalty in situations where the issue was one not previously considered by the Tax Court and the statutory language was not entirely clear.

The Tax Court’s opinion in Peterson is consistent with prior opinions by the court in situations involving the assertion of penalties in cases of first impression. In Williams v. Commissioner, 123 T.C. 144 (2004), for instance, the substantive issue was whether filing bankruptcy alters the normal Subchapter S rules for allocating and deducting certain losses. The Tax Court agreed with the IRS’s position, but it declined to impose the accuracy-related penalty because the case was an issue of first impression with no clear authority to guide the taxpayer. The court found that the taxpayer made a reasonable attempt to comply with the code and that the position was reasonably debatable.

Similarly, in Hitchens v. Commissioner, 103 T.C. 711 (1994), the court addressed, for the first time, an issue related to the computation of a taxpayer’s basis in an entity. Despite holding for the IRS, the court rejected the accuracy-related penalty. It stated “[w]e have specifically refused to impose additions to tax for negligence, etc., where it appeared that the issue was one not previously considered by the Court and the statutory language was not entirely clear.” Other cases are in accord. See Braddock v. Commissioner, 95 T.C. 639, 645 (1990) (“as we have previously noted, this issue has never before, as far as we can ascertain, been considered by any court, and the answer is not entirely clear from the statutory language”); Wofford v. Commissioner, 5 T.C. 1152, 1166-67 (1945) (“If the petitioner was mistaken, as he evidently was, as to the controversial question of what the legal effect of the assignment for income tax purposes was, that is not a sufficient reason for holding that he was negligent.”).

Practice Point: As noted above, the IRS is more frequently asserting penalties against taxpayers. To the extent the substantive issue is one for which there is no clear guidance from the courts or the IRS, taxpayers may want to consider using the “issue of first impression” defense. This defense may avoid the potential pitfalls associated with the waiver of privilege when other penalty defenses are raised.

McDermott’s Tax Controversy Team Garners Tier 1 Ranking in the Legal 500 United States 2017

Recently, the Legal 500 US 2017 ranked McDermott’s Tax Controversy practice group as Tier 1. (The Legal 500 category for Tax Controversy is “US Taxes—Contentious.”) Five members of our federal tax controversy team—Todd Welty, Roger Jones, Jean Pawlow, Robin Greenhouse and Andrew Roberson—were specifically mentioned as part of the Firm’s “outstanding” practice. Welty, Jones and Pawlow all received the Legal 500’s “Leading Lawyer” designation. Jane May, the leader of McDermott’s State and Local Taxation group, was likewise recognized for her controversy expertise.

More generally, McDermott’s US and International Tax practice was honored in the Legal 500’s “US Taxes—Non-Contentious” and International Tax categories. Lowell Yoder, the head of our group, was given a “Leading Lawyer” designation in both categories. Jane May and Damon Lyon received recognition in US Taxes—Non-Contentious, and Caroline Ngo, Kristen Hazel, Phil Levine, Andrew Roberson and Tim Shuman received recognition in International Tax.

For 29 years, the Legal 500 has analyzed the capabilities of law firms around the globe, providing rankings on the strengths of law firms, individual lawyers and practice groups in more than 100 jurisdictions. These rankings are based on feedback from more than 250,000 in-house counsel and the independent assessment of law firm deals and confidential matters by the Legal 500’s researchers. As the Legal 500 puts it, “we highlight the practice area teams who are providing the most cutting edge and innovative advice to corporate counsel.”

Further, the Legal 500 elevated two of McDermott’s Tax Controversy lawyers—Roger Jones and Jean Pawlow—into its “Hall of Fame.” This elite group includes lawyers that have been named “Leading Lawyers” for six consecutive years and have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence.

McDermott’s full Legal 500 rankings can be found here.

McDermott Continues to Receive Top Rankings in Tax in Chambers USA 2017

Chambers USA, which releases an annual listing of rankings of law firms and attorneys in various practice areas, has released its 2017 edition. We are honored that Chambers USA has recognized McDermott’s tax practice and several of its attorneys in the latest rankings. A summary of McDermott’s tax rankings is listed below along with a complete list available here to all McDermott rankings.

In the nationwide rankings for Tax Controversy, we maintained our Band 2 ranking. In the state rankings for Tax, we are ranked in Band 1 for Illinois, Band 2 for Washington, DC and Band 3 for Texas.

On the tax controversy side, our team was recognized as known for a “Dominant presence in high-value tax disputes across the USA, fielding particular expertise in transfer pricing litigation and SALT work.” Clients gave us “10 out of 10 for client service,” and added: “They are great at investing in and building a long-term relationship.”  Particularly noted is the value for money we provide.  Clients agreed that they get good value from us: “It’s outstanding client service and worth every penny. Billing has been very detailed and understandable.

Several of our tax controversy attorneys were recognized by Chambers USA on the nationwide and state levels:

Chair of the firm’s tax controversy practice Todd Welty maintains an excellent reputation in the market for his tax controversy and litigation expertise. One impressed source comments: “His knowledge and trial expertise was phenomenal.” His impressive list of clients includes multinationals and Fortune 100 companies.

I have the utmost respect for Roger Jones’s litigation and controversy skills,” states one interviewee. His expert litigation practice sees him frequently act for major corporations at all levels of the federal court system.

Jean Pawlow regularly advises financial institutions on complex tax controversy matters. Observers indicate: “Her practice is very deep and diverse, and her clients benefit from that.

Andrew Roberson comes recommended as an “excellent tax controversy lawyer who has great instincts, is extremely personable and offers really good client skills.” His strong litigation practice is complemented by additional experience in resolving tax disputes in ADR proceedings.

Thomas Borders is a “great and experienced trial lawyer,” according to interviewees. He draws on his experience as a former IRS attorney to act on the full range of federal tax controversy matters, including defending against criminal investigations.

Analysis of Energy and Tax Proposals in the 2018 Budget Proposal

President Trump released his budget proposal for the 2018 FY on May 23, 2017, expanding on the budget blueprint he released in March. The budget proposal and blueprint reiterate the President’s tax reform proposals to lower the business tax rate and to eliminate special interest tax breaks. They also provide for significant changes in energy policy including: restarting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, reinstating collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee and eliminating DOE research and development programs.

Read the full article.

The View from Here: LB&I’s Cross-Border Activities Campaigns Webinar

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) hosted its sixth in a series of eight webinars regarding LB&I Campaigns. Our previous coverage of LB&I Campaigns can be found here. The webinar focused on two cross-border activities campaigns: (1) the Repatriation Campaign and (2) the Form 1120-F Non-Filer Campaign. Below, we summarize LB&I’s comments on the new campaigns.

Repatriation Campaign

In general, the active earnings of foreign subsidiaries are not subject to tax until repatriated to the United States. Typically, those repatriations would be treated as dividends and would be subject to tax. LB&I stated that, through examination experience, it has observed that some taxpayers have engaged in techniques to permit repatriation from such entities while inappropriately avoiding US taxation.

LB&I developed the Repatriation Campaign with three goals in mind. First, LB&I was concerned with developing better objective techniques to identify risks across the broad taxpayer population. Second, LB&I is trying to improve sightlines into a broader segment of the LB&I population beyond the largest taxpayers under continuous audit. Third, LB&I intends to address any compliance risks related to repatriation in a way that increases voluntary compliance.

Unlike other campaigns, LB&I is not focused on a specific structure or techniques. LB&I is instead trying to identify objective indicators of opportunities to implement questionable planning (in the IRS’s view). Per LB&I, returns with those indicators are more likely to present compliance risks and are more likely to be selected. LB&I stated that it does not believe publicly identifying those indicators will increase voluntary compliance. Historically, when LB&I selected a return for examination, it did not necessarily start with any particular issue; any issue could be examined. If a return is selected under this campaign, LB&I’s initial focus will be narrower, but other compliance issues, if discovered, can still be added to the audit. Repatriation issues can also be raised outside of the Repatriation Campaign—possibly in a continuous audit or in an audit relating to another LB&I campaign. Continue Reading

Dealing with Allocations of Tax Liabilities in Non-IRS Agreements

Taxpayers often enter into tax sharing agreements to agree on how the parties may allocate current or future tax liabilities or potential refund. Sometimes these agreements are heavily negotiated (e.g., a corporation acquiring a subsidiary of an unrelated party); sometime they are not (e.g., marital settlement agreements among individuals with little assets). A recent US Tax Court (Tax Court) opinion is a reminder that such agreements between private parties are not binding on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in a tax proceeding.

In Asad v. Commissioner, the IRS disallowed certain deductions for rental-property losses claimed by the taxpayers on their joint returns for two years. The taxpayers, who had since divorced, both sought relief from joint and several liability under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6015. In their divorce agreement, the taxpayers agreed that each would be liable for 50 percent of the tax liabilities for the two years. The IRS conceded that each taxpayer should be relieved of joint and several liability for a fraction of the liabilities (28 percent and 41 percent for the ex-wife and 72 percent and 59 percent for the ex-husband). At trial, the taxpayers argued that they should each be liable for 50 percent of the tax liabilities in accordance with the divorce agreement.

The Tax Court disagreed.  It reasoned that although the divorce agreement established the taxpayers’ rights against each other under state law, it did not control their liabilities to the IRS.  The court noted that case law, legislative committee reports, and reports issued by the Department of Treasury and the General Accounting Office have all observed that though divorce decrees may provide for an allocation of liabilities, such an allocation is not binding on creditors who do not participate in the divorce proceeding, and binding the IRS to such a divorce decree was impractical. Accordingly, in this case, though the taxpayers would have agreed to a 50/50 split on the tax liability, their divorce agreement did not alter their liabilities to the IRS.

Practice point:  When negotiating agreement containing a sharing of tax liabilities, taxpayers should remember that such agreement is not binding on the IRS, which is not a party to that agreement.  In the event one party is ultimately found liable for more than the amount or percentage dictated in an agreement, that party must seek contribution from the other party and cannot force the IRS to collect from the other party.

To Agree or Not to Agree, That Is the Question

The last few years have seen significant changes in audit procedures employed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These changes range from the new Information Document Request (IDR) procedures to substantial changes at the IRS Appeals level. This post focuses on the IRS’s attempt to develop an agreed set of facts before a case is submitted to IRS Appeals.

As taxpayers and practitioners are aware, IDRs are the most-used tool by IRS revenue agents to obtain information and develop the factual record (other common tools include interviews and site visits). Revenue agents use IDRs in several ways, including to request documents, understand taxpayer positions and identify key personnel involved. The end result of this information gathering is a notice of proposed adjustment, which then forms the basis for the revenue agent’s report in an unagreed case. Continue Reading

Chief Special Trial Judge Panuthos to Step Down, Effective September 1, 2017

Last week, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that Chief Special Trial Judge (STJ) Peter J. Panuthos has decided to step down as Chief STJ, effective September 1, 2017. STJ Lewis R. Carluzzo will take over as Chief STJ beginning September 1, 2017. STJ Panuthos has been Chief STJ for the past 25 years, and has a long list of accomplishments, including assisting in the expansion of pro bono services to unrepresented taxpayers. The Tax Court’s press release provides more background on STJs Panuthos and Carluzzo.

STJs are an important part of the Tax Court, and perform many different functions for the Court. The statutory authority for STJs is found in Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7443A(a), which authorizes the Chief Judge of the Tax Court to appoint STJs. Code Section 7442A(b) provides that the Chief Judge may assign a variety of proceedings to be heard by STJs, any declaratory judgment proceeding, any proceeding under Code Section 7463 (relating to small tax case procedures), any proceeding where the amount in dispute does not exceed $50,000, lien/levy proceedings, certain employment status proceedings, whistleblower proceedings and any other proceedings which the Chief Judge may designate. Although STJs may potentially hear a wide variety of matters, most cases conducted by STJs related to small tax proceedings where the amount in dispute is less than $50,000. These cases are conducted as informally as possible and the rules of evidence are relaxed; however, the trade-off is that these types of cases are not appealable by either party and may not be treated as precedent for any other case (although there is no prohibition against citing such cases for their persuasive value). For more information on the statutory and Tax Court rules on STJs, see here.

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