Federal Court Provides Relief From FBAR Penalties – What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

Federal Court Provides Relief From FBAR Penalties – What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

In recent years the IRS has made the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) penalty enforcement a top priority and this is alarming the taxpayers worldwide. Even in the course of every routine domestic IRS audit, IRS agents are looking for undisclosed foreign bank accounts.

The FBAR Penalty

The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requires that a Form FinCEN 114 (formerly Form TDF 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), be filed if the aggregate balances of such foreign accounts exceed $10,000 at any time during the year. This form is used as part of the IRS’s enforcement initiative against abusive offshore transactions and attempts by U.S. persons to avoid taxes by hiding money offshore.

The penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. A taxpayer who non-willfully fails to timely file an FBAR can be assessed a penalty of at least $10,000.00 per year of non-compliance. The IRS has taken the position that this non-willful penalty is assessed on an account-by-account basis. For example, a person whose failure to file an FBAR form is non-willful and has three accounts totaling $50,000 could potentially be assessed the maximum $10,000 penalty for each account, for a total of $30,000 per year, while a person with one account with a balance of $300,000 would pay only one $10,000 penalty per year.

Federal Court Applies FBAR Penalty Reduction

In two recent cases, Federal District Courts held that the $10,000 was assessed per form, not per account. See Bittner, 469 FSupp3d 709 (E.D. Tex./2020) and Kaufman, 2021 WL 83478 (Conn. 2021).

Bittner involved non-willful FBAR assessments totaling $2.72 million against the taxpayer for 2007 through 2011. Mr. Bittner is a Romanian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who returned to Romania in 1990, where he became a very successful businessman and had an interest in or signatory authority over more than 50 foreign accounts. He returned to the United States in 2011. Because he had not filed timely FBARs for 2007 through 2011, the IRS assessed the non-willful FBAR penalties. The Government sued to collect the penalties. The Government moved for partial summary judgment as to the penalty assessed for those accounts Bittner admitted to having a financial interest in. The non-willful penalties assessed for those accounts were $1.77 million. Bittner filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, claiming that no more than one $10,000 non-willful penalty can be assessed per annual form.

Kaufman, involved similar non-willful FBAR assessments as Bittner.  Mr. Kaufman is a U.S. citizen who has resided in Israel since 1979, where he had multiple financial accounts. His U.S. tax returns were prepared by an American accounting firm. Each year, the accountants would ask if he had any foreign accounts and would advise him that if he did, he may need to file FBAR forms. Each year he told his accountants he did not have any foreign accounts. When asked how he paid his bills, he claimed it was out of a U.S. brokerage account, so they checked the “no” box to the question on the return whether he had foreign accounts. Notwithstanding this evidence, Mr. Kaufman claimed he did not learn of the FBAR filing requirement until September 2011. He also claimed that he suffered a heart attack in late 2010 and was involved in an auto accident in 2011 and that these affected his cognitive abilities.

The Court analyzed the text of the FBAR statute (Code Sec. 5321(a)(5)(A)) recognizing that this provision provides for a penalty “on any person who violates, or causes any violation of, any provision of § 5314”. Query then, what is a “violation” of the statute?

The language of the willful penalty, which bases the amount of the penalty “in the case of a violation involving a failure to report the existence of an account or any identifying information required to be provided with respect to an account, the balance in the account at the time of the violation” seems to infer that Congress intended the willful penalty to be applied on an account-by-account basis.

However, the Court then looked at the language of the non-willful penalty and the reasonable cause exception. While the reasonable cause exception to the non-willful penalty was related to the “balance in the account,” the non-willful penalty itself did not contain any reference to “account” or “balance in the account.” The Court presumed that Congress acted intentionally when it drafted the non-willful penalty language without these references. Further, because the BSA aimed “to avoid burdening unreasonably a person making a transaction with a foreign financial agency,” an individual required to file an FBAR form was only required to file one report for each year. As a result, “it stands to reason that a ‘violation’ of the statute would attach directly to the obligation that the statute creates—the filing of a single report—rather than attaching to each individual foreign financial account maintained.” Additionally, no matter how many foreign accounts a person has, the requirement to file an FBAR is only triggered if the aggregate balance in the accounts is over $10,000. It thus made no sense “to impose per-account penalties for non-willful FBAR violations when the number of foreign financial accounts an individual maintains has no bearing whatsoever on that individual’s obligation to file an FBAR in the first place.”

The Court rejected the government’s arguments that since the reasonable cause exception relates to the “balance in the account” the penalty must apply per account and that since the willful penalty applies on a per-account basis, so must the non-willful penalty. While Congress may have had good reason to assess the willful penalty on a per-account basis, looking to the balance in the account to determine the applicability of the reasonable cause exception did not support the conclusion that Congress meant for the non-willful penalty to apply for a per-account basis given the statutory language.

What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

  1. The penalties for noncompliance in FBAR enforcement are staggering.

FBAR penalties can be unfair as the penalties are based on the account size and not on how much tax you avoided. This is a stark contrast to other IRS penalties which are based on how much additional tax is owed.  Given this difference you will always have a bigger risk and more to lose when dealing with FBAR penalties.

  1. The two types of FBAR penalties.

The “get off gently FBAR penalty” – If the IRS feels that you made an innocent mistake and “not willfully” ignored to file your FBAR, your “get off gently penalty” will be $10,000 per overseas account per year not reported. To illustrate, if you have five foreign accounts that you failed to report on your FBAR in each of five years, the IRS can penalize you $50,000 per form (as supported by the Bittner and Kaufman cases) or $250,000 if imposed by account regardless of whether you even have that amount sitting in your foreign accounts.

The “disastrous FBAR penalty” – If the IRS can show that you “intentionally” avoided filing your FBAR’s, your minimum “disastrous FBAR penalty” will be 50% of your account value.   Additionally, the IRS may also press for criminal charges and if convicted of a willful violation, this can also lead to jail time. The “disastrous FBAR penalty” can also be assessed multiple times thus wiping out your entire savings.

Under both willful and non-willful penalties “the violation flows from the failure to file a timely and accurate FBAR.

  1. The taxpayer’s burden of proving “reasonable cause”

You are obligated to pay the penalty the IRS deems necessary. The IRS can assume the “disastrous FBAR penalty” and they are not required to prove willfulness. It will be the taxpayer that bears the heavy burden of proving that the taxpayer’s failure to comply was due to reasonable cause and not from “willful neglect”.

  1. Your appeal option.

Having exhausted all administrative remedies within the IRS first, you can then appeal the proposed FBAR penalties to a Federal District Court but for that court to have jurisdiction you must pay the assessments in full and then sue the IRS in a district court for refund. Since coming up with the money may be impossible for most taxpayers, consider hiring an experienced tax attorney to make the most of the IRS appeals process and perhaps avoid the need for litigation.  Keep in mind that in the appeals process, you do not have to pay any FBAR penalty until the end. Second, you can be successful if IRS remedies itself thus making court filings unnecessary. And third, even if the administrative remedies do not yield you success, your tax attorney can attempt to negotiate with the IRS to lower your FBAR penalties without going for a trial.

  1. The Voluntary DisclosureRoute.

The streamlined filing compliance procedures are available to taxpayers certifying that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part. The streamlined procedures are designed to provide to taxpayers in such situations (1) a streamlined procedure for filing amended or delinquent returns and (2) terms for resolving their tax and penalty obligations.

Taxpayers will be required to certify that the failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBARs (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1), was due to non-willful conduct.

If the IRS has initiated a civil examination of a taxpayer’s returns for any taxable year, regardless of whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets, the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the streamlined procedures. Similarly, a taxpayer under criminal investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation is also ineligible to use the streamlined procedures.

Taxpayers eligible to use the streamlined procedures who have previously filed delinquent or amended returns in an attempt to address U.S. tax and information reporting obligations with respect to foreign financial assets (so-called “quiet disclosures”) may still use the streamlined procedures.

What Should You Do?

If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, you should seriously consider making a voluntary disclosure to the IRS. Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income. Also if you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you.  And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

Businessman Indicted For Not Reporting Foreign Bank Accounts And Filing False Documents With The IRS

Businessman Indicted For Not Reporting Foreign Bank Accounts And Filing False Documents With The IRS

In recent years the IRS has made the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) penalty enforcement a top priority and this is alarming the taxpayers worldwide. Even in the course of every routine domestic IRS audit, IRS agents are looking for undisclosed foreign bank accounts.

On March 3, 2021 the Department Of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release of a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returning an indictment, charging a Virginia man with failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR’s) and filing false documents with the IRS.

Indictment Details

According to the indictment, Azizur Rahman of Herndon, Virginia, had a financial interest in and signature authority over more than 20 foreign financial accounts, including accounts held in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Singapore, and Bangladesh. From 2010 through 2016, he allegedly did not disclose his interest in all of his financial accounts on annual FBARs, as required by law. Mr. Rahman also allegedly filed false individual tax returns for the tax years 2010 through 2016 that did not report to the IRS all of his foreign bank accounts and income.

Mr. Rahman is also charged with filing a false “Streamlined Submission” in conjunction with the IRS Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures. Those procedures allowed eligible taxpayers residing within the United States, who failed to report gross income from foreign financial accounts on prior tax returns, failed to pay taxes on that gross income, or who failed to submit an FBAR disclosing foreign financial accounts, to voluntarily disclose their conduct to the IRS and to pay a reduced penalty if their conduct was non-willful. The indictment alleges that Mr. Rahman’s Streamlined Submission did not truthfully disclose all the foreign bank accounts in which he had an interest, and falsely claimed that his failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, such as FBARs, was non-willful.

If convicted, Mr. Rahman faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison for each of the counts related to filing false tax documents. He also faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count relating to his failure to file an FBAR or filing a false FBAR.

The legal proceedings are expected to be conducted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

  1. The penalties for noncompliance in FBAR enforcement are staggering.

FBAR penalties can be unfair as the penalties are based on the account size and not on how much tax you avoided. This is a stark contrast to other IRS penalties which are based on how much additional tax is owed.  Given this difference you will always have a bigger risk and more to lose when dealing with FBAR penalties.

  1. The two types of FBAR penalties.

The “get off gently FBAR penalty” – If the IRS feels that you made an innocent mistake and “not willfully” ignored to file your FBAR, your “get off gently penalty” will be $10,000 per overseas account per year not reported. To illustrate, if you have five foreign accounts that you failed to report on your FBAR in each of five years, the IRS can penalize you $250,000 regardless of whether you even have that amount sitting in your foreign accounts.

The “disastrous FBAR penalty” – If the IRS can show that you “intentionally” avoided filing your FBAR’s, your minimum “disastrous FBAR penalty” will be 50% of your account value.   Additionally, the IRS may also press for criminal charges and if convicted of a willful violation, this can also lead to jail time. The “disastrous FBAR penalty” can also be assessed multiple times thus wiping out your entire savings.

  1. The taxpayer’s burden of proving “reasonable cause”

You are obligated to pay the penalty the IRS deems necessary. The IRS can assume the “disastrous FBAR penalty” and they are not required to prove willfulness. It will be the taxpayer that bears the heavy burden of proving that the taxpayer’s failure to comply was due to reasonable cause and not from “willful neglect”.

  1. Your appeal option.

Having exhausted all administrative remedies within the IRS first, you can then appeal the proposed FBAR penalties to a Federal District Court but for that court to have jurisdiction you must pay the assessments in full and then sue the IRS in a district court for refund. Since coming up with the money may be impossible for most taxpayers, consider hiring an experienced tax attorney to make the most of the IRS appeals process and perhaps avoid the need for litigation.  Keep in mind that in the appeals process, you do not have to pay any FBAR penalty until the end. Second, you can be successful if IRS remedies itself thus making court filings unnecessary. And third, even if the administrative remedies do not yield you success, your tax attorney can attempt to negotiate with the IRS to lower your FBAR penalties without going for a trial.

  1. The Voluntary Disclosure Route.

The streamlined filing compliance procedures are available to taxpayers certifying that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part. The streamlined procedures are designed to provide to taxpayers in such situations (1) a streamlined procedure for filing amended or delinquent returns and (2) terms for resolving their tax and penalty obligations.

Taxpayers will be required to certify that the failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBARs (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1), was due to non-willful conduct.

If the IRS has initiated a civil examination of a taxpayer’s returns for any taxable year, regardless of whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets, the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the streamlined procedures. Similarly, a taxpayer under criminal investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation is also ineligible to use the streamlined procedures.

Taxpayers eligible to use the streamlined procedures who have previously filed delinquent or amended returns in an attempt to address U.S. tax and information reporting obligations with respect to foreign financial assets (so-called “quiet disclosures”) may still use the streamlined procedures.

What Should You Do?

If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, you should seriously consider making a voluntary disclosure to the IRS. Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income. Also if you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you.  And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

I need to report foreign income? FBAR

Federal Court Of Appeals For The Third Circuit Clarifies Standard for Proving a “Willful” FBAR Violation

Federal Court Of Appeals For The Third Circuit Clarifies Standard for Proving a “Willful” FBAR Violation

Not much has come out of the Courts defining that line between nonwillful and willful when it comes to not filing Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Reports (“FBAR”) but now we have a recent U.S. Federal Circuit Of Appeals case out of the Third District which has vast repercussions on anyone who has undisclosed foreign bank accounts regardless of whether they came forward in a Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Procedures.

Bedrosian v. U.S.

In December 2018 the Federal Circuit Court Of Appeals for the Third District (the “Appeals Court”), Bedrosian v. U.S., 2018 PTC 427 (3rd Cir. 2018), on an appeal by the IRS issued its opinion determining that the taxpayer’s failure to timely file an FBAR was nonwillful. The tax law provides that U.S. citizens with accounts outside the U.S. must disclose those accounts on an FBAR if the aggregate amount is at least $10,000. 31 U.S.C. 5314. The reason the term “willful” is important is that if the failure is not willful, the penalty is set at $10,000 per violation but if the failure to disclose is considered “willful”, the penalty goes up to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the highest account value for the year.

In the case of Arthur Bedrosian the IRS in January 2015 assessed a willful FBAR penalty for tax year 2007 of approximately $975,000, which was 50% of the undisclosed account. Mr. Bedrosian paid 1% of the penalty and then sued in Federal District Court to recover the payment as an unlawful exaction. The government counterclaimed for the full penalty amount plus interest and a late payment penalty.

Facts

Mr. Bedrosian worked in the pharmaceutical industry eventually rising to the level of CEO at Lannett Company, Inc., a company that manufactures generic medications. He had to travel abroad for business and so for convenience by 1973 had established a bank account with Swiss Credit Corporation in Switzerland (now UBS) by which he could access funds instead of paying for expenses with traveler’s checks. Eventually he started using it as a savings account and in 2005 he was approached by the bank representatives who offered him 750,000 Swiss Francs if he converts his account into an investment account. Mr. Bedrosian agreed and as a result of this transaction, another account was created under his name.

It was not until tax year 2007 that Mr. Bedrosian included, for the first time, an affirmative answer to the question on his Form 1040 Schedule B asking whether “[a]t any time during 2007, [he had] an interest in or signature or other authority over a financial account in a foreign country.” He listed Switzerland as the country. He also filed an FBAR for the first time in which he reported the existence of one of the two UBS accounts.

The IRS notified Mr. Bedrosian in April 2011 that it would be auditing his returns and he was cooperative and forthcoming in his dealings with the IRS. In the results of the audit, the IRS assessed a willful FBAR penalty for tax year 2007 of just under $1 million.

When the case was first heard by the Federal District Court, the only disputed issue was whether Mr. Bedrosian’s failure to disclose his $2 million UBS account was willful. In that case as reported in Bedrosian v. U.S., 2017 PTC 431 (E.D. Pa. 2017), the district court concluded that the IRS had failed to establish Mr. Bedrosian’s willfulness. The government appealed to the Third Circuit, arguing that the district court used an incorrect legal standard for willfulness, placed too much weight on Mr. Bedrosian’s subjective motivations, and erred in finding that Mr. Bedrosian did not know he owned a second foreign bank account.

Court’s Analysis

The Court Of Appeals stated that to prove a “willful” violation with respect to the filing of an FBAR, the IRS must satisfy the civil willfulness standard, which includes both knowing and reckless conduct.

In its analysis of “willfulness,” the court considered the taxpayers’ behaviors in U.S. v. Williams, 489 Fed. Appx. 655 (4th Cir. 2012), and U.S. v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 2d 1186 (D. Utah 2012). The court noted that unlike those taxpayers, who continued to submit inaccurate FBARs even after being targets of government investigation, or who repeatedly lied and refused to produce requested documents, Mr. Bedrosian was cooperative with the IRS during the audit process.

Upon the IRS’ urging to consider “willfulness” outside of the FBAR context, the court also reviewed Greenberg vs. U.S., 46 F.3d 239 (3d Cir. 1994). There the court had considered whether a party had willfully failed to pay certain employer withholding taxes. It was determined that willfulness depended on the individual’s knowledge that his company had not paid the taxes at the time he paid company funds to the employees and other suppliers.

Although the court here agreed that Mr. Bedrosian should have been more careful about reviewing the 2007 FBAR and in being aware of the fact that he had not one but two accounts at UBS, the court determined that it was not apparent that he submitted it knowing that it omitted the second UBS account.

Significantly, the court summarized that the only evidence supporting a finding that Mr. Bedrosian’s violation was “willful” was: (1) the inaccurate form itself, lacking reference to the second account, (2) the fact that he may have learned of the second account’s existence at one of his meetings with a UBS representative, (3) his sophistication as a businessman, and (4) his accountant’s statement to him in the mid-1990s that he was breaking the law. The court concluded that “none of these indicate ‘conduct meant to conceal or mislead’ or a ‘conscious effort to avoid learning about reporting requirements,’ even if they may show negligence”.

Accordingly the Third Circuit then remanded the case for the district court affirming that Mr. Bedrosian did not act willfully in failing to disclose the second UBS account in his 2007 FBAR filing.

What Should You Do?

Taxpayers who have entered into the Streamlined Program whose case is weak on showing nonwilfullness have a huge risk of being picked by IRS and losing the favorable status offered by the Streamlined Procedures where the IRS feels that the non-willful standard is not met.  Such taxpayers will not then be able to enter into a voluntary disclosure program and can face the same battle as Mr. Bedrosian.  Likewise, anyone who has not come forward in voluntary disclosure and the issue of nonwilfullness is questionable would still have the opportunity to come forward under a voluntary disclosure program.  Keep in mind that any submission must be complete or else like Mr. Bedrosian, the IRS will reject the settlement and look to assess the full penalties provided by law. Let the tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and offices elsewhere in California get you set up with a plan that may include being qualified into a voluntary disclosure program to avoid criminal prosecution, seek abatement of penalties, and minimize your tax liability. Also, if you are involved in cannabis, check out how our cannabis tax attorneys can help you.

the paradise papers - offshore banking

Another Leak Of Taxpayers Allegedly Involved In Hiding Assets Offshore – What You Need To Know About The “Paradise Papers”

A compilation based on more than 13.4 million documents dated from 1950 to 2016, uncovers a large number of global corporations, government leaders, and prominent people and their use of offshore accounts to avoid taxes or otherwise hide ownership of assets.

On November 5, 2017 the International Consortium Of Investigative Journalists released what is now dubbed the “Paradise Papers”.  The reporting is similar to the Panama Papers, which in 2016 exposed cases involving celebrities and business executives who reportedly moved large chunks of their wealth into offshore tax havens.  The source of documents in the Panama Papers came from 11 million documents secured from the Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca.  The Paradise Papers is even more extensive as it is based on more than 13.4 million documents dated from 1950 to 2016 from Bermuda including the Appleby Law Firm and the Asiaciti Trust Company.

Several members of Trump’s inner circle, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, were mentioned in the Paradise Papers.  Now while it’s not necessarily illegal to distribute wealth across secret companies, which can be used by the super wealthy as legitimate forms of holding their wealth, shell companies can be used to evade taxes and disguise illegal behavior. Also just because someone is mentioned in the Paradise Papers, it doesn’t necessarily mean their business holdings are illegal or they did anything illegal. Unfortunately, when one is mixed in with a basket of bad apples, you know how people will tend to judge the whole harvest.

Nevertheless, this leak is another huge hit the offshore world has taken. The Panama Papers included connections to families and associates of Syrian President Bashar Assad, former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Panama Papers also confirmed that associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin have funneled as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts, banks and shadow companies.  Some well-known celebrities were also identified in the Panama Papers that include Jackie Chan, Micheline Roquebrune and Lionel Messi.

So as government tax officials start reading the Paradise Papers, you can expect in the coming months that many new names will come out that the IRS will be interested in targeting.

Filing Requirements If You Have Foreign Accounts

By law, many U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts exceeding certain thresholds must file Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, known as the “FBAR.” It is filed electronically with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

Taxpayers with an interest in, or signature or other authority over, foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during a calendar year must file FBARs. It is due by the due date of your Form 1040 and must be filed electronically through the BSA E-Filing System website.

Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain non-resident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on Form 8938 if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. Reporting thresholds vary based on whether a taxpayer files a joint income tax return or lives abroad. The lowest reporting threshold for Form 8938 is $50,000 but varies by taxpayer.

By law, Americans living abroad, as well as many non-U.S. citizens, must file a U.S. income tax return. In addition, key tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion, are only available to those who file U.S. returns.

The law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to complete and attach Schedule B to their tax return. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and usually requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

Penalties for non-compliance.
Civil Fraud – If your failure to file is due to fraud, the penalty is 15% for each month or part of a month that your return is late, up to a maximum of 75%.

Criminal Fraud – Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).

The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).

Additionally, the penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. For non-willful violations it is $10,000.00 per account per year going back as far as six years. For willful violations the penalties for noncompliance which the government may impose include a fine of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years, for failure to file a report, supply information, and for filing a false or fraudulent report.

Lastly, failing to file Form 8938 when required could result in a $10,000 penalty, with an additional penalty up to $50,000 for continued failure to file after IRS notification. A 40% penalty on any understatement of tax attributable to non-disclosed assets can also be imposed.

The Solution.

The IRS has special programs for taxpayers to come forward to disclose unreported foreign accounts and unreported foreign income. The main program is called the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). OVDP offers taxpayers with undisclosed income from offshore accounts an opportunity to get current with their tax returns and information reporting obligations. The program encourages taxpayers to voluntarily disclose foreign accounts now rather than risk detection by the IRS at a later date and face more severe penalties and possible criminal prosecution.

For taxpayers who willfully did not comply with the U.S. tax laws, we recommend going into the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). Under this program, you can get immunity from criminal prosecution and the one-time penalty is 27.5% of the highest aggregate value of your foreign income producing asset holdings.

For taxpayers who were non-willful, we recommend going into the Streamlined Procedures of OVDP. Under these procedures the penalty rate is 5% and if you are a foreign person, that penalty can be waived. This is a very popular program and we have had much success qualifying taxpayers and demonstrating to the IRS that their non-compliance was not willful.

What Should You Do?

Don’t delay because if the government finds out about you first, you could be in the same hot water as Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn.  Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County, San Francisco and other California locations resolve your IRS tax problems, get you in compliance with your FBAR filing obligations, and minimize the chance of any criminal investigation or imposition of civil penalties.

Ty Warner, Beanie Babies Creator, Convicted For Not Disclosing Foreign Bank Accounts

It’s been about 20 years since the U.S. suddenly fell in love with the adorable 5-inch Beanie Baby dolls created by Ty Warner. But in October 2013 billionaire Ty Warner broke down crying in U.S. District Court as he pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion for hiding $25 million in income in secret Swiss bank accounts.

The Rise And Fall Of Beanie Babies

Ty Warner wasn’t afraid to take risks. Beanie Babies first appeared in 1993, triggering a craze for the plush toys fashioned into bears and other animals. He ignored the naysayers after Beanie Babies flopped during their initial debut, and pressed forward with a product he believed in more than anyone else. One reason why the toys easily supplanted other fads such as Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch dolls was partly because of Mr. Warner’s strategy of deliberate scarcity. He rolled out each one—Spot the Dog, Squealer the Pig—in a limited quantity and then retired it.

At the height of the Beanie Babies craze, Mr. Warner was shipping more than 15,000 orders per day to retailers. This explosion of sales made him rich. Forbes recently put his net worth at $2.6 billion. Mr. Warner’s obsession even became an asset. When he would suddenly change product designs, collectors and wannabe entrepreneurs would snap up the $5.00 plushes and resell them on eBay at mark-ups topping 1,000%! Some people would take extreme measures to secure these rare editions. In 1999, Jeffrey White, a career criminal from West Virginia, shot and killed a co-worker at a lumberyard after an argument over Beanie Babies.

Three years into the Beanie Babies craze, Mr. Warner boarded a plane bound for Zurich, where he would make the biggest mistake of his life. In 1996, at UBS, one of Switzerland’s largest banks, he opened a secret account invisible to the IRS. The exact amount he deposited is unknown, but by 2002 it had grown to $93 million. To keep the account’s existence from prying eyes, including those of his own accountants, he signed a “hold mail” form that instructed the bank not to send any mail related to the account to the United States and to destroy any documents in his file when they became five years old.

The money Mr. Warner stashed in Switzerland remained there, compounding tax-free, for the next dozen years. And each time Warner got to the part on his Federal individual income tax return that asks if the taxpayer has any foreign accounts, he checked the box that said no.

As his net worth skyrocketed over the next few years, thanks to his 100% ownership of Ty Inc., Mr. Warner couldn’t help bragging about his success. In 1998, experts questioned his claim to be the world’s top toy seller. (Unlike public companies, private companies are not obliged to release revenue figures.) Miffed, Mr. Warner took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal stating that his company had $700 million in profits in 1997. If true, that would have made it more profitable than his two top competitors at the time, Hasbro and Mattel, which reported $560 million in combined profits that year.

But you know the old saying – “What goes up also goes down”. Prices for Beanie Babies eventually crashed and collections, which some people insured for thousands of dollars, became worthless.

Ty Warner’s Tax Problems

Mr. Warner’s hubris eventually got the best of him, too and in October 2013 he pleaded guilty to tax evasion. The 69-year old billionaire who created Beanie Babies broke down crying in court in October 2013 as he pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion for hiding $25 million in income in secret Swiss bank accounts.

Mr. Warner (#209 on Forbes 400 list) is not the first Forbes 400 member to draw tax charges. Leandro Rizutto (#296), founder of Conair, had his own run in with tax crimes. And another is Igor M. Olenicoff (#184), a Southern California real estate developer with a net worth of $2.9 billion.

According to the charging document, Mr. Warner opened a secret UBS account in 1996. In late 2002, he moved $93 million to Zürcher Kantonalbank. That account produced over $3 million of income in 2002 alone, which he failed to mention on his Form 1040. He even amended his 2002 return in 2007, but once again omitted the offshore income.

Mr. Warner still paid considerable tax on the nearly $50 million of 2002 income he did report. But he shorted the IRS by about $1.2 million. Including the next ten years, he admitted to the Court in his plea that he evaded paying $5 million in taxes due to the IRS. That’s a painful omission, not only drawing the tax evasion charge but huge FBAR penalties too. Prosecuters contended that he was concealing as much as $107 million in undisclosed foreign bank accounts. In Ty Warner’s case the FBAR penalty will exceed $53 million.

The numbers are staggering. And that ties into criminal penalties. A tax evasion conviction carries up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Tax convictions even draw prosecution costs on top of all the back taxes, interest and penalties. And the penalties can be huge. Civil fraud penalties alone can add another 75%.

But when it comes to penalties, FBAR charges and penalties—even civil penalties—are the real gravy train for the government. An annual report of foreign accounts in the law since 1970, FBAR’s target money laundering. They were not widely known—or widely enforced—until the UBS scandal of 2008 and 2009.

But now they are ubiquitous, requiring reporting of foreign accounts even by those with mere signature authority but no beneficial interest. A willful failure to file an annual FBAR can trigger a civil penalty of up to 50% of the amount in the account at the time of the violation.

On January 14, 2014 Ty Warner the mastermind behind Beanie Babies—still considered the most successful toy launch in U.S. history—and is among the richest people in America, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Kocoras. On this day, Mr. Warner had nowhere to hide. As he walked to a court lectern in an impeccably tailored dark suit, his ginger-colored hair flaring copper under the stark lights, he looked as tentative as a modern-day Willy Wonka clomping across the plaza of his ruined reclusiveness. Mr. Warner said to Judge Kocoras, “I never realized that the biggest mistake I ever made in life would cost me the respect of those most important to me.”

But once Judge Kocoras began to speak, it became clear that Mr. Warner wouldn’t spend one day behind bars for tax evasion. The judge all but produced a sword, asked the toy man to kneel, and tapped him on each shoulder. “Mr. Warner’s private acts of kindness, generosity, and benevolence are overwhelming,” Judge Kocoras said after reading aloud letters from Warner’s supporters.

He further lauded Warner for already paying a civil penalty of $53 million (which amounts to just 2% of the billionaire’s estimated net worth), plus back taxes. “I believe . . . with all my heart, society will be best served by allowing him to continue his good works,” the judge concluded. In lieu of the four-year-plus prison term recommended by federal guidelines, Judge Kocoras sentenced Ty Warner to two years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $100,000.00 fine.

How Does This Effect You?

Although Mr. Warner’s numbers are huge, many more garden-variety taxpayers find themselves facing the awkward combination of failing to report interest on foreign bank accounts and failing to file FBARs. Even if the unreported income is small, the combination of amending tax returns to report it plus quietly filing past-due FBARs is a classic “quiet disclosure”. The IRS advises against them and says it can prosecute taxpayers who do it anyway.

What the IRS wants taxpayers to do is to join the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. Like the 2009, 2011 and 2012 programs that preceded it, taxpayers must file up to 8 years of amended returns and up to 8 FBARs. Taxes on the unreported income, interest and a 20% penalty on the taxes seem reasonable.

But the sticking point for many is the IRS program’s counterpart to the FBAR penalty. Currently, the program’s penalty is 27.5% of the highest aggregate account balance in the undisclosed offshore accounts. For many, that is a crushing penalty, and for that reason many taxpayers have still refused to come forward taking the gamble that even with the new reporting required by foreign banks under FATCA they can remain undetected. Fortunately, starting with July 1, 2014 the IRS has issued new procedures in its Voluntary Disclosure Program that certain taxpayers could qualify of a 5% FBAR penalty and in some cases all FBAR penalties can be waived.

Crime Doesn’t Pay

The amount Ty Warner saved in income taxes by stashing money overseas was almost laughably small for a billionaire: just $5 million. He wound up having to fork over 16 times that to the feds.

$93 million
Amount in Swiss account in 2002

 $107 million
Account value in 2008

 $5 million
Taxes saved

 $80 million
Civil penalties, interest, and back taxes paid

Beanie Babies are still wonderful toys and, if you’re like most people who have them, yours are in mint condition because you once thought they would make you rich. The good news: Those animals will make a wonderful gift for a local hospital or police station, where they will provide comfort to people too young to remember that there was a time when Beanie Babies drove people to madness and its creator to the IRS. 

What Should You Do?

Charges like Mr. Warner’s stratospheric bubble-bursting Beanie Baby tax and FBAR consequences are reminders that your freedom is at stake and the dollars in question can get worse—catastrophically worse—than the reduced FBAR penalty offered by IRS in its Voluntary Disclosure Programs.

Don’t let another deadline slip by. If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns or even if you have already quietly disclosed or you are in the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“OVDI”), you should seriously consider participating in the IRS’s 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program.

Protect yourself from excessive fines and possible jail time. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and elsewhere in California qualify you for OVDP.

Description: Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. resolve your IRS tax problems, get you in compliance with your FBAR filing obligations, and minimize the chance of any criminal investigation or imposition of civil penalties.

Tax Return Preparers Face IRS Scrutiny and Criminal Prosecution for Assisting in Income Tax Evasion By Not Disclosing Clients’ Foreign Income And Foreign Accounts.

The U.S. tax laws require that U.S. taxpayers must report their worldwide income, regardless of whether they are living in the U.S. or abroad.  In addition all U.S. taxpayers who have an interest in, or signatory or other authority over a bank, securities or other similar foreign accounts must file FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), if the aggregate value of the foreign accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.

In addition to filing an FBAR form, the U.S. taxpayer must follow certain reporting requirements on his or her annual tax return.  First, the U.S. taxpayer must include a completed Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends, with his or her annual tax return.  On Schedule B, the taxpayer will complete Part III, Foreign Accounts and Trusts, which asks whether, at any time in the year, the taxpayer had a financial interest in or signatory authority over a foreign financial account.  Schedule B also asks whether the taxpayer is required to file an FBAR, and if so, in which foreign country the financial account was located.

The U.S. Taxpayer may also be required to file Form 8938, Statement of Specific Foreign Financial Assets with his or her annual tax return.  Whether a taxpayer is required to file this form depends on where the taxpayer lives, the taxpayer’s filing status, and the value in the accounts.

Failure to comply with the above reporting requirements can result in steep penalties to the unwitting taxpayer including civil and criminal charges.  When investigating tax evasion, however, the IRS does not limit its inquiries to those who are responsible for paying taxes.

U.S. tax law provides that any person who willfully aids or assists in, counsels, or advises the preparation of a tax return or other IRS document that is fraudulent or false as to any material matter can be charged with a crime. If convicted, this is a three year felony that carries a maximum three year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000. An individual does not need to sign the document in question to found guilty of this crime and this statute is often is used to catch tax preparers, accountants, or lawyers who help taxpayers cheat on their taxes. IRC §7206(2).

In June 2012, three managers (David Kalai, Nadav Kalai, and David Almog) of a tax return preparation service called, United Revenue Service (“URS”), were indicted before the United States District Court for the Central District of California.  The indictment alleged that the defendants prepared false individual income tax returns which did not disclose the clients’ foreign financial accounts nor report the income earned from those accounts. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of three years in prison for each count and a maximum fine of $250,000 for each count.

This indictment appears to be just the beginning of the Justice Department’s attempts in California to prosecute not only those who have undeclared foreign bank accounts and under- (or un-) reported income to the IRS, but those who have assisted the taxpayers with improperly reducing (or avoiding altogether) their income tax liability to the IRS.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime related to false preparation or false presentation of tax returns or you have just learned from your client that foreign income and foreign bank accounts needed to be reported on tax returns, you should speak with an experienced criminal tax defense attorney at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. who can help you determine the most effective course of action.

Description: Protect yourself from loosing your license and being charged with fines and possible jail time. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere in California defend you from the IRS.

IRS Enforcement Action to Combat Offshore Tax Evasion

In his closing remarks, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman affirmed that the IRS has significantly increased its resources and focus on offshore tax evasion. Since 2009 IRS gave taxpayers a chance to come in voluntarily and avoid going to jail. With the IRS’ mining of information it has received over the last few years, the IRS has launched its next wave of investigations on banks, bankers, intermediaries and taxpayers. Not only is the IRS looking to collect additional revenue for past misdeeds but to also to fundamentally change the risk calculus of taxpayers who are thinking about hiding their money overseas and deter the next generation of taxpayers from using hidden bank accounts to cheat on their taxes.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires that a Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), be filed if the aggregate balances of such foreign accounts exceed $10,000 at any time during the year. This form is used as part of the IRS’s enforcement initiative against abusive offshore transactions and attempts by U.S. persons to avoid taxes by hiding money offshore.

The penalties for FBAR noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. The penalties for noncompliance which the government may impose include a fine of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years, for failure to file a report, supply information, and for filing a false or fraudulent report.

The U.S. since 2009 has prosecuted about 70 U.S. taxpayers and 30 bankers, lawyers and advisers in a crackdown on offshore tax evasion and officials are still swiftly moving forward with further investigations and prosecutions.

In advance of the expected large wave of enforcement to be commenced by IRS, the IRS had established programs for taxpayers to voluntarily come forward and disclose unreported foreign income and foreign accounts under what the IRS calls the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI).

OVDI allows taxpayers to come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and not have to bear the full amount of penalties normally imposed by IRS.  Taxpayers who hire an experienced tax attorney in Offshore Account Voluntary Disclosures should result in avoiding any pitfalls and gaining the maximum benefits conferred by this program.