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Laura L. Gavioli, PC, defends individuals and corporations in white-collar prosecutions, civil tax cases, US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) controversies and complex financial litigation. Laura represents numerous taxpayers who are facing civil and criminal issues regarding their reporting of offshore financial accounts and other assets. Laura has also represented clients involved in some of the largest white-collar criminal tax evasion cases ever brought in the United States, and she regularly advises clients regarding the IRS Whistleblower Program. Read Laura Gavioli's full bio.

On Tuesday, November 21, a jury acquitted Bank Frey executive Stefan Buck of conspiracy to commit criminal tax evasion in the Southern District of New York. The case is captioned United States v. Edgar Paltzer and Stefan Buck, No 1:13-cr-00282-JSR (S.D.N.Y.).

In April 2013, an indictment was filed against Buck and a co-conspirator, Edgar Paltzer, alleging a criminal conspiracy whereby Buck, the head of private banking at Bank Frey, and Paltzer, a US citizen and lawyer, conspired with US taxpayers to move funds out of Swiss banks under investigation in the US, including Wegelin. The alleged criminal conduct included arranging for cash withdrawals and purchases of jewelry, opening new undeclared accounts, and filing false statements of beneficial ownership, among other actions.

Continue Reading Jury Acquits Swiss Banker Stefan Buck of Tax Evasion Conspiracy

On October 30, 2017, Paul Manafort Jr. was indicted for concealing his interests in several foreign bank accounts, as well as tax evasion and a host of other criminal charges.  The indictment reminds us how important it is to follow the strict guidelines of the reporting regime that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of the Treasury have established to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act, a US citizen or resident (a US Person) is required to disclose certain foreign bank and financial accounts which he or she has “a financial interest in or signature authority over” annually.  This obligation can be triggered by direct or indirect interests; a US Person is treated as having a financial interest in a foreign account through indirect ownership of more than 50 percent of the voting power or equity of a foreign entity, like a corporation or partnership.  The US Person is required to annually disclose the interest on FinCEN 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, which is commonly referred to as the FBAR.  The disclosure requirement is triggered when the aggregate value of the foreign account exceeds $10,000.  The form is filed with your federal income tax return.

The civil penalties for failing to timely disclose an interest in a foreign account can be severe, and in the case of willful violations, can reach up to 50 percent of the highest aggregate annual balance of the unreported foreign financial account each year.  The statute of limitations for FBAR violations is six years, and the willful penalty may be assessed for more than one year, creating extreme financial consequences for FBAR reporting failures.

Continue Reading Manafort Indictment Is a Good Reminder of FBAR Disclosure Requirements

In two recent cases, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) has explored the bounds of the anonymity protection afforded to potential whistleblowers under the court’s rules and other authorities. Tax Court Rule 345 relates to privacy protections for filings in whistleblower actions.  Under paragraph (a), a whistleblower may move the court for permission to proceed anonymously.  In order to proceed anonymously, the whistleblower must provide a sufficient, fact-specific basis for anonymity.  Specifically, the Tax Court has held that “[a] whistleblower is permitted to proceed anonymously if the whistleblower presents a sufficient showing of harm that outweighs counterbalancing societal interest in knowing the whistleblower’s identity.”  (Whistleblower 10949-13W v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-94, at 5).  However, the balance of harm to societal interest may shift as the case progresses, thereby justifying disclosure after anonymity has been granted.  See Tax Court Rule 345(b). Continue Reading Tax Court Requires Specific Factual Showing of Harm for Whistleblower Anonymity

As we have recently discussed, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals has been making a number of changes to their administrative review process in the last few years. While many of these changes have been driven by lack of resources, others—like the standing invitation of Exam into the Appeals process—have the potential to undermine the independence of Appeals, which has historically been a vital component of the taxpayer’s right of redress with the Service.

In this week’s American Bar Association conference in Austin, Texas, IRS Appeals clarified that, for field cases worked by revenue agents, taxpayers may still receive in-person conferences, despite recent pronouncements that phone conferences are the preferred or default method. Conferences in campus cases (or correspondence audit cases) will still be generally handled by telephone, but there will eventually be a move to in-person conferences by request. Campus cases are being treated differently because they are often managed in locations remote from the taxpayer without adequate facilities for in-person meetings. Guidance will be issued to IRS employees regarding these changes.

As Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson noted, these changes are helpful but not enough. In particular, Olson expressed dismay that campus cases were not being included in the change. Roughly 75 to 80 percent of IRS examinations are conducted by correspondence. In these cases, there is a great need for personal contact with the taxpayer, but no single person within the Service is assigned to a case.

Practice Point: The new announcement provides practitioners with additional support for their requests for in-person Appeals conferences. In our experience, an in-person conference is frequently much more productive than one by phone, and practitioners should request these whenever possible.

We recently wrote here about “John Doe” summonses and a case where an anonymous “John Doe” was allowed to intervene in a summons enforcement action. To refresh, under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records would be covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons to a third party to produce documents related to the unidentified taxpayers.

In Hohman v. United States, Case No. 16-cv-11429 (E.D. Mich. July 11, 2017), two John Doe summonses directed a banking institution to deliver to the IRS records related to three accounts, which were identified only by account numbers. Two of the accounts were held by limited liability companies (LLCs) and the other was held by an individual. The banking institution notified some of the account-holders that it had received a John Doe summons that sought records for accounts relating to them.

The account-holders filed a civil action, alleging that the IRS’s efforts to obtain their financial records through the use of John Doe summonses violated the federal Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA). The RFPA accords customers of banks and similar financial institutions certain rights to be notified of and to challenge in court administrative subpoenas of financial records in the possession of banks.  The individual account-holder did not allege that the IRS actually obtained or disclosed any records of account information as a result of the John Doe summons.

The government moved, under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), to dismiss the RFPA claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The government asserted that it has sovereign immunity from the account-holders’ RFPA claims. The waiver of sovereign immunity under the RFPA applies only to claims that a government authority disclosed or obtained financial records.

The court agreed with the government. First, the court concluded that the RFPA’s waiver of sovereign immunity applies only to “customers,” and the LLCs were not “customers” as defined under the RFPA. The court reasoned that the plain language of the RFPA does not state that an LLC is either a “person” or a “customer” and the court was not at liberty to expand the definitions. Second, the court concluded that sovereign immunity was not waived with respect to the individual’s claim because the individual had not alleged that the IRS actually obtained or disclosed any financial records or information from the account as a result of the John Doe summons.

Practice Point:  Although waivers of sovereign immunity are often construed strictly, taxpayers should consult with their advisors to determine whether their particular facts may allow an action against the government.

Courts continue to strike down the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as it continues to test the bounds of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine through the issuance of improper summonses. In the last several years, the IRS has filed numerous summons enforcement proceedings related to the production of documents generally protected by the attorney-client privilege, tax-practitioner privilege, and/or work product doctrine. These summonses include overt requests for “tax advice” and “tax analysis,” which several courts have refused to enforce. For example, see Schaeffler v. United States, 806 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2015).

Once again, in United States v. Micro Cap KY Insurance Co., Inc. (Eastern District of Kentucky), a federal district court rejected the IRS’s arguments and refused to enforce an inappropriate summons. The opinion is available here. The IRS filed this enforcement proceeding seeking to compel the production of confidential communications between taxpayers and the lawyers that assisted them in forming a captive insurance company. After conducting an in camera review (where the judge privately reviewed the documents without admitting them in the record), the judge found the taxpayers had properly invoked privilege since each document “predominately involve[d] legal advice within the retention of [] counsel.”

The court also rejected the government’s argument that the attorney-client privilege was waived by raising a reasonable cause and reliance on counsel defense to penalties in the taxpayers’ case filed in Tax Court. Because the government’s argument was untimely, it was waived and rejected outright. The court, however, proceeded to explain how the argument also failed on its merits. Continue Reading The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently summarized several critical deficiencies in how the IRS handles electronically stored federal records in a recent report, available here. The lapses identified by TIGTA may affect the availability of those electronic records for future Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, litigation and Congressional review. The report does not address the IRS’s retention policy for physical documents.

Federal law mandates the retention of the government’s federal records. Unfortunately, prior to May 22, 2013, IRS electronic asset disposal policies included instructions to “wipe” and “reimage” computer hard drives that were no longer needed by IRS users. If those computers were the only repository for electronically stored federal records, that information would be lost. TIGTA noted that, even though the IRS revisited those policies several times, computers were still being wiped and reimaged as part of the IRS’s migration to Windows 7 through January 14, 2016. This also affects email retention since users are often required to manually identify and store or print their email records. An upgraded email solution that will permit the automatic retention and storage of email records is being implemented.

Further, TIGTA determined the IRS’ storage and retention policies for computers that were not wiped or reimaged were ineffective. For example, TIGTA found that the IRS has approximately 32,000 laptops and desktops in storage, but an inventory report identifying the number and location of computing devices currently in storage from specific employees could not be readily produced, rendering electronic federal records on those devices essentially unavailable.

These inadequate electronic record retention policies have resulted in the destruction of material subject to litigation holds, delays in the FOIA process, and the unavailability of responsive documents for FOIA requests. TIGTA made the following recommendations, which the IRS agreed to:

  • An enterprise email system should be implemented that enables the IRS to comply with federal records management requirements.
  • A methodology for developing one list of executives for the permanent and 15-year email retention groups should be documented.
  • The newly issued policy on the collection and preservation of federal records associated with separated employees should be disseminated broadly within the agency.
  • The director should ensure that the policy for documenting search efforts is followed by all employees involved in responding to FOIA requests.
  • The director should develop a consistent policy for the search of federal records associated with separated employees.

Practice Point: When drafting FOIA requests and discovery requests for electronic records, practitioners should be aware of record-retention challenges facing the IRS since they will impact the IRS’s ability to fully respond to FOIA requests and adequately implement litigation holds for years to come.

On June 20, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) hosted its final webinar regarding LB&I Campaigns. Our previous coverage of LB&I Campaigns can be found here. The webinar focused on two campaigns:  (1) Section 48C Energy Credits and (2) Land Developers – Completed Contract Method.

Continue Reading LB&I’s Final Campaigns Webinar: Section 48C Energy Credits and Completed Contract Method for Land Developers