Lies and the Lying Liars in the Tax Business (with apologies to Al Franken)

I have the good fortune of having professional friends and colleagues around the country who have law practices or accounting practices which specialize in defending taxpayers whom the IRS claims owe back taxes.

And so, when some thorny issue comes up I might talk to a brother or sister tax pro in Florida or Texas or New Hampshire or Washington State or a smattering of other places around the country, in both red and blue states.

Recently, I was working on a tricky issue relating the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (to the uninitiated, this weird string of four words refers to one aspect of tax law that properly strikes fear into the hearts of business owners with employees everywhere or, if it doesn’t, either it should or the business owner has already dealt with the issue and taken steps to avoid or solve this problem; see, for example, http://lifelawandtaxes.com/not-just-for-bernie-madoff-or-king-tut-business-owners-build-devastating-pyramids-of-withholding-tax-debt-deducted-from-paychecks-but-not-sent-to-irs/).

After brainstorming a bit on strategy for my Trust Fund Issue, my colleague and I started talking about life, the world, and business, generally.

She complained bitterly (and hilariously) about our still-new president Obama (I couldn’t disagree with her more on this, yet we still are able to find common ground elsewhere and get along just fine – like the Jets and the Sharks go bowling together).

Then, to my surprise, she told me that she is doing less and less tax work.

Honest Analysis Loses Out to Empty Promises

Her explanation: We can’t compete with these tax resolution companies who promise the sun, moon and stars in their advertising and then have telephone sales people who don’t know anything about the tax rules and say whatever the taxpayers want to hear.

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Jobs Agency Owner Gets Temp Assignment (Some Call it a ‘Sentence’) to Federal Prison for Unpaid Employment Tax

A San Antonio, Texas, woman was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the IRS for her role in a fraudulent tax scheme.

In addition to the prison term, United States District Judge Fred Biery ordered that Terrell Diamond be placed under supervised release for a period of three years after completing her prison term.

According to court records, Diamond, along with her now-ex-husband and co-defendant, William Diamond, conspired to defraud the IRS in the assessment and collection of more than $1.5 million in employment taxes due and owing from November 1996 to June 2003.

The employment taxes owed pertained to temporary employment agencies owned and operated by the Diamonds, including Ameriforce and Primo Labor.

Both Diamonds pleaded guilty to the same charge: one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS.

IRS Auditor Caught Faking Own Tax Return

A revenue agent with the Internal Revenue Service has agreed to plead guilty to a federal tax fraud charge for filing a personal income tax return that claimed he suffered a loss in a real estate transaction when in fact he realized a substantial profit. (“Revenue agent” is the official title for the people at the IRS who audit tax returns.)

In a plea agreement, Jim H. Liu, 43, of Diamond Bar, Calif., agreed to plead guilty to subscribing to a false tax return — a charge that carries a penalty of up to three years in federal prison.

‘My Gain is Your Loss’ Shenanigan Uncovered and Confessed

Liu admitted he filed a false tax return for the 2002 tax year that improperly claimed a loss on his sale of a property in Pomona. Liu sold the property for a profit of more than $48,000, but he instead claimed a loss of more than $4,200.

The tax loss to the government, as a result of Liu’s filing, was approximately $14,642.88.

One reason to want to be paying taxes

This is obvious but, with all the dread, resentment, and busywork that frequently comes along with the chore and expense of preparing tax returns and paying taxes, it is all too often overlooked:

if you’re paying taxes it means you made money.

Not owing (and so, paying) taxes generally means you aren’t making money. And that’s worse. (Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the issues surrounding “tax haven” countries like Leichtenstein, the Caymen Islands, Andorra, Monaco, etc., where we’ve been reading in the news recently that profitable companies avoid taxes through foreign subsidiaries incorporated in one of these offshore places).

It is a where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire causal connection (or putting it into achievement test comparison: Income taxes are to making money as smoke is to fire (and again, following the metaphor, we leave aside the smokeless fires of off-shore tax havens for the moment).

The basic reality is, again, if your paying taxes, you’re making money, and that’s a good thing. (Thank you, Martha Stewart.)

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Post Script:  At risk of blowing a punch line (not that this is funny), this paying-taxes-because-you’re-making-money-and-that’s-a-good-thing message makes me think to mention that I recently started a second blog, on a completely different topic, which is relevant here:  the other blog is called “Marketing and PR Lab” and, instead of discussing law or the government or taxes, it instead focuses on ways of improving one’s business and so, income, by improving your marketing methods and getting known.

So as you think of ways to have the “smoke and fire” problem described above, that is: “I have to pay taxes, Dang! But that means I made money — Great!” you might want to go to http://marketingandprlab.com to see if there are things there that can push your business and income-earning forward, or leave a comment to share your experiences, or both.

Prosecutor: Marion Barry Owes $277,000 in Back Taxes

Can this guy keep try to keep out of trouble for even a minute or two?

Prosecutors allege Washington, D.C., Council member and former Mayor Marion Barry has failed to pay more $277,000 in back taxes.

In a recent court filing, prosecutors told the court the politician had not made a tax payment during a period in which he took a Jamaican vacation and ran for re-election to the Ward 8 council seat.

“There is no excuse for the defendant’s failure to make payments to the District of Columbia because, during this six-month period, the defendant nevertheless had enough time and money, for instance, to take a six-day vacation in Jamaica in Sept. 2008 as well as to run for re-election as a council member,” prosecutors told the court.

In 2006, Barry received three years of probation for not filing tax returns from 1999 to 2004.

Something to think about when you’re not thinking about taxes – Miles Davis

We can’t be fretting over Internal Revenue Code 6662 (the accuracy-related penalties, 20%, 40% depending on how inaccurate your tax return might be found to be) all the time.

There are alternatives. To be especially self-punishing, one look at § 6672 (the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty,” formerly known as the “100% penalty” and think “oh how lucky I am to be only exposed to liability under § 6662 and not § 6672).

Better yet, and less punishing, just think about something else entirely.

For example, one timeless, but all to often overlooked alternative, there’s Miles Davis.

Below is video of a part of a concert at Montreaux, in 1973.

In this clip, Miles is in his late 60’s/early 70’s period which critics and some fans seemed to love (or loved) to hate. One theory: they are (or were)  apparently stuck in the 50’s when he did those great recordings with the quintet, Kind of Blue and Round About Midnight, etc. (not a bad place to get stuck, but now 40 years later some might argue that the late 60’s/early 70’s electric Miles is still ahead of his time).

So, below is the clip….

Dentist’s Pyramid of Unpaid Payroll Taxes and Unfiled Returns Bring Indictment

If dentist Arlan R. Turley treated his teeth the way the Government alleges he’s treated his tax-filing obligations, he’d have cavities and one heck of a case of bloody, bad gums.

This 60-year-old Arizona man was indicted on two counts of willful failure to file a tax return and 20 counts of willful failure to pay over taxes. Turley operated the East Valley Dental Service in Mesa, Ariz.

The indictment alleges that the charges for failure to file are the result of Turley’s non-filing of his 2002 and 2003 income tax returns. In addition, Turley has not filed an individual tax return for a whole decade: 1997 to 2007.

The charges for failure to pay over taxes arise from Turley allegedly not turning over his employees’ payroll taxes to the government, again and again. (See http://lifelawandtaxes.com/not-just-for-bernie-madoff-or-king-tut-business-owners-build-devastating-pyramids-of-withholding-tax-debt-deducted-from-paychecks-but-not-sent-to-irs/ .)

If convicted, Turley faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Not Just for Bernie Madoff or King Tut, Business Owners Build Devastating Pyramids of Withholding Tax Debt Deducted From Paychecks But Not Sent to IRS

What do they call it when a business owner withholds payroll taxes from his or her employees’ paychecks, spends that money on other expenses, doesn’t send the withholding tax payment to the IRS, then, does the same thing again, and then again, and then again?

The “again and again” part is called “pyramiding”: the employer is pyramiding its failure to pay one payment period after another, growing the company’s debt to the government astronomically.

Another way to describe it is digging the hole deeper, and deeper. (Recall Bill Clinton’s sensible advice: If you’re in a hole, first thing: stop digging.)

The act of failing to pay to the IRS (actually the U.S. Treasury) is a way to live especially dangerously for business owners, managers, and decision makers at the company. James Bond thinks he’s living dangerously? Feh!

The reason it is so dangerous is: The IRS has the power to hold the owners, managers, and decision-makers at the company personally responsible for the unpaid withholding tax with little more than the stroke of a pen. (This is called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty.”)

With this extraordinary power, the IRS can “pierce the corporate veil” with an ease unknown to ordinary creditors. Once it does, this liability is NOT deductible and it is NOT dischargable in bankruptcy. So there is a triple-whammy which can be devastating, and “pyramiding” the debt multiplies the problem.

This triple-whammy is then magnified further by the state tax dept, if the business is in a state which has an income tax; States have similarly huge, extraordinary powers and often the state is even tougher than the IRS.