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IRS Flexes Its Administrative Summons Power in Recent Tax Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s recent opinion in Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, No. 19-1049 (10th Cir. April 7, 2020), reminds us of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) ability to obtain the information it needs to examine taxpayers’ returns using its powerful summons tool.

In May 2017, the IRS began auditing Standing Akimbo, LLC (Standing Akimbo), a Colorado limited liability company operating as a medical-marijuana dispensary. The audit focused on whether Standing Akimbo improperly claimed business deductions that were prohibited under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 280E. Generally, IRC section 280E provides that no deduction or credit is allowed for any amount paid or incurred in the carrying of a business if such business trafficks in controlled substances that are prohibited by Federal law. While legal under Colorado law, marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance under Federal law, and specifically the Controlled Substances Act. As a pass-through entity, any adjustments to Standing Akimbo’s returns would affect its owners’ (Taxpayers) individual tax returns.

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John Doe Intervenes in Virtual Currency Summons Enforcement Case

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 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 are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.

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