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Tax Enforcement Actions

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the United States agency with primary responsibility for enforcing federal tax laws, working with the Department of Justice. Whistleblowers with knowledge of violations of the federal tax laws can submit a claim to the IRS under the IRS Whistleblower Reward Program, and may be eligible to receive a monetary reward.

Below are summaries of recently-announced settlements or successful prosecutions by the IRS or DOJ. If you believe you have information about fraud or wrongful conduct which could give  rise to a claim under the IRS Whistleblower Reward Program, please contact us to speak with one of our experienced whistleblower attorneys.

October 15, 2020

Robert F. Smith, who formed and beneficially owned Belize entity the Excelsior Trust and Nevis entity Flash Holdings, has entered into a non-prosecution agreement, agreeing to pay $139 million, to resolve claims that between 2000 and 2015 he unlawfully used the offshore entities and their offshore bank accounts to conceal income earned by him on private equity investments and evade millions in taxes.  Using the offshore trust accounts, Smith willfully did not report to the IRS over $200 million of partnership income.  In addition, he unlawfully failed to report his ownership of foreign bank accounts in BVI and Switzerland.  The $139 million settlement consists of $56 million in taxes and penalties on unreported income and $82 million in penalties stemming from his failure to report his offshore bank accounts.  In addition, Smith agreed to abandon a $182 million refund claim based on alleged charitable contributions in 2018 and 2019.  DOJ; USAO ND Cal

August 26, 2020

LA-based clothing company Ambiance Apparel and its owner Sang Bum “Ed” Noh have pleaded guilty to customs violations and tax offenses, agreeing to pay a total of $118 million, which includes $36 million in previously-seized cash.  Defendants evaded import tariffs by colluding with Asian manufacturers for the submission of invoices to CBP that fraudulently understated the value of imported clothing. The fraudulent invoices indicated payment terms by letter of credit; a second invoice for the balance of the actual price was paid by defendants by wire transfer. In less than five years, Ambiance undervalued imports by about $82.6 million and failed to pay more than $17.1 million in tariffs. In addition, defendants failed to properly report cash transactions and maintained a second set of books for cash transactions, evading nearly $17 million in taxes.  The company will be placed on probation for five years and will be ordered to undertake specific compliance procedures.  USAO CD Cal

April 30, 2020

Israel-based Bank Hapoalim, together with its Swiss and other subsidiaries, will pay nearly $875 million and plead guilty to charges that it conspired with U.S. taxpayers and others to conceal $7.6 billion in thousands of Swiss and Israeli bank accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and other U.S. government entities, including New York State.  As part of its plea, the bank admitted that it assisted U.S. customers in setting up secret accounts, sheltering assets and income, and evading taxes.  The total payment by bank entities consists of $216.8 million in restitution to the IRS, $160.3 million in forfeiture, federal penalties of $239.8 million, $37.4 million in civil monetary penalties to the Federal Reserve System, and $220 million in penalties to the New York State Department of Financial Services.   As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the bank will cooperate with ongoing investigations and disclose information regarding U.S.-related accounts. The bank simultaneously entered into a separate settlement agreement regarding money laundering with respect to the FIFA bribery investigation. DOJ; USAO SDNY; NY.

March 11, 2020

The owner and operator of multiple parcel delivery businesses in Florida has been sentenced to 2 years in prison and ordered to pay $9 million in restitution for withholding over $10.8 million in payroll taxes.  Despite his business earning over $100 million in revenue, and despite withholding taxes from hundreds of employees, Ricardo Betancourt failed to actually pay it to the IRS and instead used those funds to finance personal expenses and other business ventures.  DOJ

March 2, 2020

A man in Colorado who was part of a tax fraud scheme involving renewable fuel credits has been sentenced to nearly 7 years in prison and ordered to pay $7.2 million in restitution.  Along with co-conspirators, Matthew Taylor created a fake company, Shintan Inc., that they then used to seek out and obtain over $7.2 million in tax credits for renewable fuel that Shintan never actually produced.  The fraud ran from 2010 to 2013 and personally netted Taylor about $4.5 million.  DOJ

December 20, 2019

Zurich-based Swiss bank Coutts & Co Ltd. has agreed to pay $27.9 million in an amendment to a 2015 non-prosecution agreement under the Swiss Bank Program between the bank and the U.S.  In 2015, Coutts reported that it held and managed 1,337 U.S. related accounts, with assets under management exceeding $2 billion, and paid a penalty of $78,484,000. In the amendment, Coutts acknowledges that it should have disclosed 311 additional U.S.-related accounts at the time of the signing of the non-prosecution agreement. DOJ

December 10, 2019

HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay $192 million for conspiring with U.S. clients and others to evade taxes over a ten year period.  At the peak of the scheme in 2007, HSBC Switzerland was estimated to hold undeclared assets worth approximately $1.26 billion on behalf of U.S. clients, before it self-disclosed to authorities three years later.  The resulting fine, which took into account the bank’s extensive cooperation with the investigation, represents about $61 million in restitution to the IRS, $72 million in civil forfeiture to the DOJ, and $59 million in penalties.  DOJ

December 3, 2019

The government has reached a settlement agreement with Franchise Group Intermediate L 1 LLC, the national franchisor and owner of Liberty Tax Service, one of the largest tax preparation service providers in the U.S.  The government alleged that Liberty failed to maintain adequate controls over tax returns prepared by its franchisees, and failed to take steps to prevent the filing of potentially false or fraudulent returns.  The proposed judgment bars Liberty from employing certain individuals, including its founder and former CEO John Hewitt, and requires Liberty to implement specific compliance and reporting procedures, including the implementation of an internal whistleblower program.  DOJ

November 6, 2019

Winston Shrout, who became a fugitive after being sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017, has been captured and returned to custody.  Shrout led seminars promoting the use of fraudulent financial instruments as a means to avoid taxes, and sold materials for the preparation of such fraudulent instruments.  In addition, Shrout failed to file tax returns from 2009 through 2014.   DOJ

August 29, 2019

Following a guilty plea, Treyton Lee Thomas was sentenced to over 21 years in prison and ordered to pay $14.6 million in restitution and forfeiture to the U.S. and victims of his investment fraud ponzi scheme.  Thomas's victims included his own father, his father's company, his wife, and his father-in-law. Thomas also pleaded guilty to income tax evasion, having failed to file returns for two decades, while using sham offshore entities to conceal his income.  USAO EDNC
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