IRS Criminal Investigation Division Announces New Priorities

Carlos F. Ortiz, Bridget M. Briggs, and Jeffrey M. Rosenfeld

At the ABA Section of Taxation’s 2017 May Meeting, Erick Martinez, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division’s Director of Field Operations – Northern Area, provided insight into the Division’s current priorities and strategies. Mr. Martinez indicated that the Division is concentrating on nationally coordinated investigations in conjunction with the Justice Department Tax Division and the IRS Large Business and International Division, such as cases involving renewable fuel credits.

The Criminal Investigation Division is also increasing its focus on data-driven cases such as beneficial owner cases, given the plethora of information resulting from the Swiss bank program and offshore voluntary disclosure programs. Mr. Martinez further noted an increased emphasis on cybercrime with two new cybercrime units in Los Angeles and Washington investigating failure to report income earned through the use of technology.

Tax Court Holds IRC Charitable Contribution Subsection is not Self-Executing in the Absence of Regs

On December 22, 2016, the United States Tax Court (the “Court”) issued 15 West 17th Street LLC v. Commissioner, 147 T.C. No. 19 (2016) and addressed, a question related to the statutory construction of section 170(f)(8),[1] which governs the substantiation requirements for certain charitable contributions. The Court held that the taxpayer was not entitled to a charitable contribution deduction for its donation of a historic preservation deed of easement to a non-profit organization on the ground that the rulemaking authority delegated in subparagraph (D) is not self-executing in the absence of regulations. Therefore, the general rule set forth in subparagraph (A) requiring a contemporaneous written acknowledgment applied to the gift at issue.   Continue reading

IRS Announces Plans to Move Forward with Passport Revocation Program

Jed M. Silversmith and Jeffrey M. Rosenfeld

U.S. citizens who owe more than $50,000 in unpaid federal taxes are at substantial risk of having their U.S. passports revoked within the next few months. In December 2015, Congress enacted legislation requiring the IRS to provide a list of names to the State Department of individuals with “seriously delinquent tax debt.”¹ That term was defined in the statute to mean tax debt of over $50,000, including interest and penalties.  26 U.S.C. § 7345(b). The legislation also requires that the State Department refuse to issue new passports and gives the State Department discretion to revoke currently issued passports. See 22 U.S.C. § 2714A. Continue reading

Pennsylvania Announces 2017 Tax Amnesty Details

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has announced the details of its new tax amnesty program.  The program will run from April 21 to June 19,2017.  All taxes administered by the Department are eligible for amnesty.  Significant penalty and interest relief is available to all who participate, and taxpayers not known to the Department can avoid all taxes, penalties and interest for periods before 2010. Continue reading

Pennsylvania Tax Amnesty Enacted

A new Pennsylvania tax amnesty program is coming. It was enacted as part of the state’s 2016–2017 budget process. Taxpayers with unfiled state tax returns or returns that need to be amended will be able to pay the tax and half of the interest they owe, with the balance of the interest and all penalties being forgiven. Depending on individual circumstances, there may be only a five-year look back with all prior year tax liabilities forgiven. The effective date has not yet been announced, but when it is there will be a 60-day window to take advantage of the program.

The Amnesty Program

Any tax administered by the Department of Revenue that is delinquent as of December 31, 2015, will be eligible for the tax amnesty program, which will go into effect for 60 consecutive days beginning on a date to be established by the Governor. Under the amnesty program, one-half of all interest and 100 percent of all penalties on eligible taxes that are delinquent as of December 31, 2015, will be waived for taxpayers who file tax amnesty returns and pay delinquent taxes and one-half the interest that is due within the amnesty period.

A taxpayer with “unknown” liabilities who participates in the program and complies with all of its requirements will not be liable for any taxes of the same type that were due prior to January 1, 2011. “Unknown” means that either no return has been filed, no payment has been made, and the taxpayer has not been contacted by the Revenue Department concerning the unfiled returns or unpaid tax, or if a return has been filed, the tax was underreported and the taxpayer has not been contacted by the Revenue Department concerning the underreported tax.

A taxpayer with liabilities known to the Revenue Department may participate in the amnesty program and get the benefit of the waiver of all penalties and half the interest, but must file or amend all unfiled or deficient tax returns.

A taxpayer under criminal investigation or that is the subject of a criminal complaint or a pending criminal action for an alleged violation of any law imposing an eligible tax may not participate. A taxpayer who participates in the program is not eligible to participate in any future amnesty program. Additionally, if within two years after the end of the program a taxpayer that is granted amnesty becomes delinquent for certain periods in payment of any taxes that are due or in the filing of any required returns, the Department of Revenue may assess and collect all penalties and interest waived through the amnesty program.

The Department of Revenue is expected to publish guidance on participation in the amnesty program by no later than mid-September. Until then, many of the details of the program will not be available. For more information please click here.

 

Tax Court Provides Extra Time for Snow Day

On June 2, 2016, the United States Tax Court issued Guralnik v. Commissioner denying a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filed on the ground that the taxpayer’s petition was not timely filed.[1] As these motions are typically granted or denied by the court through a simple order, it seemed strange that the court would issue a division opinion, which is generally reserved for cases involving an issue of first impression or an important legal issue or principle. The court, however, used this case as a means to change precedent related to the date on which a petition must be filed in Tax Court to be considered timely. Continue reading

9th Circuit: Online Poker Accounts Not Reportable on FBAR

On July 21, 2016, the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Hom, No. 14-16214 D.C. No. 3:13-cv-03721-WHA (9th Cir. 2016), determined that a taxpayer who held an online poker account with PokerStars and PartyPoker was not required to report those accounts on a FinCEN Report 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).  The taxpayer, however, was required to report his FirePay account on an FBAR.

The Ninth Circuit overturned the decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in part, which had held that all these three accounts were reportable on an FBAR.

The key issue was whether either PokerStars, PartyPoker or FirePay was a financial institution.

The Ninth Circuit stated that:

“[F]inancial institution” is in turn defined to include a number of specific types of businesses, including “a commercial bank,” “a private banker,” and “a licensed sender of money or any other person who engages as a business in the transmission of funds.” 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a)(2).

Hom’s FirePay account fits within the definition of a financial institution for purposes of FBAR filing requirements because FirePay is a money transmitter. See 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a)(2)(R); 31 C.F.R. § 103.11(uu)(5) (2006). FirePay acted as an intermediary between Hom’s Wells Fargo account and the online poker sites. Hom could carry a balance in his FirePay account, and he could transfer his FirePay funds to either his Wells Fargo account or his online poker accounts. It also appears that FirePay charged fees to transfer funds. As such, FirePay acted as “a licensed sender of money or any other person who engages as a business in the transmission of funds” under 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a)(2)(R) and therefore qualifies as a “financial institution.” See 31 C.F.R. § 103.11(uu)(5) (2006). Hom’s FirePay account is also “in a foreign country” because FirePay is located in and regulated by the United Kingdom.See IRS, FBAR Reference Guide, https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/irsfbarreferenceguide.pdf (last visited July 19, 2016) (“Typically, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located outside of the United States is a foreign financial account.”).

In contrast, Hom’s PokerStars and PartyPoker accounts do not fall within the definition of a “bank, securities, or other financial account.” PartyPoker and PokerStars primarily facilitate online gambling. Hom could carry a balance on his PokerStars account, and indeed he needed a certain balance in order to “sit” down to a poker game. But the funds were used to play poker and there is no evidence that PokerStars served any other financial purpose for Hom. Hom’s PartyPoker account functioned in essentially same manner.