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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 January 23, 2018, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Courtney Dunbar Jones to the US Tax Court. He previously nominated Elizabeth Copeland and Patrick Urda on August 3, 2017.

Courtney Dunbar Jones is a senior attorney in the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division in the Office of Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If confirmed, she will assume the position left vacant by the 2016 retirement of Judge John O. Colvin. Judge Colvin still performs judicial duties as a Senior Judge on recall.

On January 24, 2018, numerous press outlets announced that President Trump will nominate Charles “Chuck” Rettig of Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, to serve as the next Commissioner of the IRS.

Rettig has been in private practice at Hochman, Salkin for more than 35 years and has a long record of leadership in our field. Among his many accomplishments, Rettig was instrumental in working with the IRS to establish key settlement initiatives over the last 15 years, including providing key practitioner guidance in designing the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

If confirmed, Rettig would helm an IRS that has been significantly reshaped by budget cuts and staff attrition in recent years. Rettig would also oversee the implementation of tax reform. Rettig has been a friend and mentor to many of us in the tax controversy bar over the years, and we are encouraged by the selection of someone from the private bar to the post.

We have written several times about penalty defenses, including substantial authority, issues of first impression and tax reporting disclosures. Additionally, we previously covered  the 2016 case of Graev v. Commissioner, where a divided US Tax Court (Tax Court) held that supervisory approval was not necessary before determining a penalty in a deficiency proceeding because the statutory language of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6751(b)(1) couched such approval in terms of a proposed penalty assessment. For those not well-versed in procedural tax lingo, an “assessment” is merely the formal recording of a tax liability in the records of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In cases subject to the deficiency procedures—i.e., where taxpayers have a right to contest the IRS’s position in the Tax Court—no assessment can be made until after the Tax Court’s decision is final. Continue Reading IRS Required to Obtain Supervisory Approval to Assert Penalties

Today, taxing authorities across the globe, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), are increasing their efforts to gather and share sensitive taxpayer information, often aggressively seeking copies of tax advice, opinions and analysis prepared by counsel and other advisors. In some situations, tax advisors specifically draft their advice to be shared with third parties, but frequently the IRS seeks advice that was always intended to be confidential client communications—for example, drafts and emails containing unfinished analysis and unguarded commentary. Sharing this latter type of advice could be problematic for taxpayers because such advice could be used as a road map for examiners during an audit and may mislead the IRS regarding the strength or weakness of a taxpayer’s reporting positions.

Last month, we spoke to tax executives at Tax Executives Institute forums in Houston and Chicago about the IRS’s increased use of treaty requests to obtain US taxpayers’ documents and information from international tax authorities. Continue Reading Maintaining Confidentiality While Navigating Cross-Border Transactions

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.