Articles Posted in Tax Law

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Dr. Mark Hopkins moved to vacate his 2010 conviction and sentence for tax evasion. Before trial, the district court ordered him to make monthly payments into the court’s registry to ensure he was complying with federal tax law. Several months later, Dr. Hopkins requested release of the funds so he and his wife, who was being tried with him, could pay their attorneys. The district court ordered the funds’ return. But then the IRS filed notice of a lien on the funds, prompting the court clerk to file an interpleader action. Dr. Hopkins never received the funds; he and his wife were convicted in a jury trial. Dr. Hopkins filed his motion on March 29, 2017, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Luis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1083 (2016). But because his conviction became final in 2013, however, Dr. Hopkins’s motion fell outside the usual one-year time limit set by 28 U.S.C. 2255(f)(1). He sought to avoid that time bar by relying on section 2255(f)(3), arguing that Luis created a “newly recognized” right that would be “retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.” The district court held that Luis did not create such a right, dismissed the motion, and granted a certificate of appealability. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Hopkins" on Justia Law

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With issues common to three appeals consolidated for review, the Government filed suit to collect unpaid taxes. In Appeal No. 17-4083, the Government appealed a district court’s determination that its state-law contract claim was time-barred because it was subject to a Utah state six-year state statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit concluded the state-law claim was governed by the ten-year statute of limitations set out in 26 U.S.C. 6502(a) because the Government was proceeding in its sovereign capacity. Appeal No. 17-4093 was a cross-appeal of the district court’s ruling that the Government’s transferee-liability claim, brought pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 6324(a)(2), was timely. Here, the Tenth Circuit concluded the transferee-liability claim was timely filed because the limitations period applicable to the 6324(a)(2) transferees was the same as the limitations period applicable to the estate. In Appeal No. 18-4036, the Government appealed the district court’s order awarding attorney’s fees to Appellees. The Tenth Circuit concluded Appellees were not entitled to attorney’s fees because the Government’s position in this litigation was substantially justified. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service issued a refund to the Wichita Center of Graduate Medical Education (a federally qualified charitable organization) on overpaid taxes along with incorrectly calculated interest on the refund. The IRS then sought repayment of part of the interest. Under the Internal Revenue Code, corporate taxpayers received a lower refund interest rate than other taxpayers such as individuals or partnerships. The Center claimed it was not a corporation for purposes of this section and was be entitled to the higher interest rate applicable to non-corporations. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the Center was a corporation and subject to the lower interest rate: the statutory text compelled the conclusion that the Center, even though it did not issue stock or generate profit, had to be treated as an ordinary corporation for purposes of the refund statute. View "Wichita Ctr for Grad Med. Ed. v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of the efforts the IRS made to investigate the tax liability of High Desert Relief, Inc. (“HDR”), a medical marijuana dispensary in New Mexico. The IRS began an investigation into whether HDR had improperly paid its taxes, and specifically whether it had improperly taken deductions for business expenses that arose from a “trade or business” that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” Because HDR refused to furnish the IRS with requested audit information, the IRS issued four summonses to third parties in an attempt to obtain the relevant materials by other means. HDR filed separate petitions to quash these third-party summonses in federal district court in the District of New Mexico, and the government filed corresponding counterclaims seeking enforcement of the summonses. HDR argued that the summonses were issued for an improper purpose—specifically, that the IRS, in seeking to determine the applicability of 26 U.S.C. 280E, was mounting a de facto criminal investigation pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act. HDR also asserted that enforcement of section 280E was improper because an "official [federal] policy of non-enforcement” of the CSA against medical marijuana dispensaries had rendered that statute’s proscription on marijuana trafficking a “dead letter” incapable of engendering adverse tax consequences for HDR. The petitions were resolved in proceedings before two different district court judges; both judges ruled in favor of the United States on the petitions to quash, and separately granted the United States’ motions to enforce the summonses. HDR challenged these rulings on appeal. The Tenth Circuit determined HDR was unable to overcome the government’s demonstration of good faith under United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48 (1964), and its alternative “dead letter” argument was without merit. View "High Desert Relief v. United States" on Justia Law

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Taxpayers Neil Feinberg, Andrea Feinberg, and Kellie McDonald were shareholders in Total Health Concepts, LLC (THC), a Colorado company allegedly engaged in selling medical marijuana. After the Taxpayers claimed THC’s income and losses on their tax returns, the IRS conducted an audit and disallowed certain deductions under 26 U.S.C. 280E, which prohibited deductions for businesses engaged in unlawful trafficking of controlled substances. The IRS then recalculated the Taxpayers’ tax liability and issued a notice of deficiency for the unpaid balance. The Taxpayers challenged that determination in tax court, which affirmed on the basis that the Taxpayers had failed to substantiate the business expenses. Both parties agreed the tax court erred by injecting a substantiation issue into this case not raised in the notice of deficiency, and then placed the burden for refuting that claim on the Taxpayers. But the Commissioner argued the Tenth Circuit should affirm on the alternative ground that the Taxpayers did not meet their burden of proving the IRS’s determination that THC was unlawfully trafficking in a controlled substance was erroneous. The Taxpayers disagreed and contended placing the burden on them would violate their Fifth Amendment privilege. Because the Tenth Circuit concluded allocation of the burden of proof did not constitute “compulsion” under the Fifth Amendment, and because the Taxpayers made no attempt to meet their evidentiary burden, the Court affirmed the tax court on the alternative ground that section 280E prohibited the deductions. View "Feinberg v. CIR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Omega Forex Group LC (Omega), appearing by and through partner Robert Flath (Flath), appealed a district court decision affirming two Notices of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA) issued by the Internal Revenue Service to Omega. The two FPAAs, on the basis of fraud at the partnership level, eliminated large losses reported by Omega on its tax returns for years 1998 and 1999, and imposed penalties on Omega. Flath was an endodontist in private practice in Utah. At some point in 1997 or 1998, one of the endodontists in Flath’s practice suggested that Flath meet with Dennis Evanson, an “expert in options trading and general business organization and planning, tax planning and asset protection.” Evanston was Omega’s managing partner. Through their business arrangement, Flath would make contributions or investments in Omega or other entities controlled by Evanston. Evanson, in exchange for Flath’s agreed payments, “manufactured fictitious transactions to conceal income [for Flath] and create apparent [tax] deductions [for Flath].” For the years at issue here, Flath or his endodontist practice would claim pass-through losses from Omega. Flath was not completely forthcoming with his tax accountant. In 2005, a grand jury indicted Evanson and other individuals related to Omega. In February 2008, Evanson was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. Omega’s FPAAs were upheld. Flath, on behalf of Omega, raised three issues on appeal: (1) whether the district court erred in holding that the FPAAs issued by the IRS to Omega were not barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (2) even assuming the district court applied the proper statute of limitations, whether it incorrectly applied the legal standards for determining whether Flath had fraudulent intent as to his personal tax returns; and (3) whether the district court erred in determining the asserted fraud penalty at the partnership level. The Tenth Circuit rejected all of these arguments and affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Omega Forex Group v. United States" on Justia Law

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In February 2016, Defendant Ricky Williams pled guilty to tax fraud relating to his preparation of federal income-tax returns for third-party clients for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. In his plea agreement, he agreed to pay restitution. After pleading guilty, he was initially released on bond pending sentencing. However, his release was revoked after the court discovered that he had been violating the terms of his release by again engaging in tax preparation activities for someone other than himself or his spouse. The probation officer who prepared his Presentence Investigation Report “determined that the defendant lied about his income, assets, and liabilities” to the probation officer. Among other things, the probation officer discovered several undisclosed financial transactions that Defendant had conducted with someone else’s social security number, and an attempt to unfreeze a bank account that contained approximately $37,000. The bank contacted the IRS. This lead to a sentence of thirty months in prison and an increased restitution amount to the IRS. A few months after Defendant’s sentencing, the government filed an application for post-judgment writ of garnishment against the frozen bank account. The bank objected on the grounds that the account was subject to “a prior internal USAA Federal Savings Bank hold from its Fraud Department." A magistrate judge concluded the government could not seek garnishment. The district court declined to accept the magistrate judge's recommendation pursuant to the terms of defendant's earlier restitution agreement. The Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the government was entitled to garnish Defendant’s bank account to obtain partial payment of the amount then-currently due in restitution. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Austin Ray was convicted by jury convictions for one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, and two counts of submitting a false tax return. Ray argued on appeal: (1) the government violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IAD) of 1970; (2) the government engaged in vindictive prosecution; (3) the district court violated his rights under the Speedy Trial Act (STA) of 1974; (4) the government violated his due-process rights by destroying certain evidence; and (5) the district court constructively amended the indictment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects, finding: (1) the government never lodged a detainer against Ray, meaning the IAD didn’t apply; (2) Ray established neither actual nor presumptive vindictiveness; (3) Ray’s STA argument was waived for failing to raise it below; (4) the evidence at issue lacked any exculpatory value, and even if the evidence were potentially useful to Ray’s defense, the government didn’t destroy it in bad faith; and (5) the district court narrowed, rather than broadened, the charges against Ray. View "United States v. Ray" on Justia Law

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Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC (“Alpenglow”) sued the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for a tax refund, alleging the IRS exceeded its statutory and constitutional authority by denying Alpenglow’s business tax deductions under 26 U.S.C. 280E. The federal government classified marijuana as a “controlled substance” under schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), but it is legal for medical or recreational use in Colorado. This appeal was the product of the clash between these state and federal policies: Alpenglow is a medical marijuana business owned and operated by Charles Williams and Justin Williams, doing business legally in Colorado. After an audit of Alpenglow’s 2010, 2011, and 2012 tax returns, however, the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency concluding that Alpenglow had “committed the crime of trafficking in a controlled substance in violation of the CSA” and denying a variety of Alpenglow’s claimed business deductions under section 280E. Alpenglow’s income and resultant tax liability were increased based on the denial of these deductions. Because Alpenglow was a “pass through” entity, the increased tax liability was passed on to Charles Williams and Justin Williams. The two men paid the increased tax liability under protest and filed for a refund, which the IRS denied. The district court dismissed Alpenglow’s suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and denied Alpenglow’s subsequent motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to reconsider the judgment. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Alpenglow Botanicals v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kathleen Stegman was convicted by a jury of two counts of evading her personal taxes for the tax years 2007 and 2008. Stegman was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 51 months, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. The district court also ordered Stegman to pay a $100,000 fine, plus restitution in the amount of $68,733. Stegman established several limited liability corporations pertaining to a “medical aesthetics” business she owned, using these corporations to effectively launder client payments. As part of this process, Stegman would use the corporations to purchase money orders, typically in denominations of $500 or less, that she in turn used to purchase items for personal use. In 2007, Stegman purchased 162 money orders totaling $77,181.92. In 2008, she purchased 252 money orders totaling $121,869.99. And in 2009, she purchased 157 money orders totaling $73,697.31. Notably, Stegman reported zero cash income on her federal income tax returns during each of these years. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury convicted Stegman of evading her personal taxes for the tax years 2007 and 2008 (Counts 4 and 5), as well as evading corporate taxes for the tax years 2008 and 2009 (Counts 1 and 2). The jury acquitted Stegman of evading corporate taxes for the tax year 2010 (Count 3). The jury also acquitted Stegman and Smith of the conspiracy charge (Count 6). Stegman moved for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. The district court granted the motion as to the two counts that related to the evasion of corporate taxes (Counts 1 and 2), but denied the remainder of the motion. In doing so, the district court chose to acquit Stegman of the corporate tax evasion counts not due to a lack of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this corporation evaded taxes,” but rather because “the indictment itself was flawed in attributing the loss as due and owing by Ms. Stegman, when actually it was due and owing by the corporation.” Stegman raised five issues on appeal, four of which pertain to her convictions and one of which pertained to her sentence. Although several of these issues require extensive discussion due to their fact-intensive nature, the Tenth Circuit concluded that all of these issues lacked merit. View "United States v. Stegman" on Justia Law