COLVIN + HALLETT BLOG
On July 10, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the IRS from charging a fee for the issuance and renewal of preparer tax identification numbers (PTINs), after concluding that the IRS lacked statutory authority to charge such user fees. Steele, et al. v. United States of America, No. 14-cv-1523 (D. D.C. June 1, June 10, 2017). The Court also ordered the IRS to refund all PTIN user and renewal fees paid since the inception of the PTIN program. In response to the Court’s order, the IRS suspended its collection of PTIN user fees and issued a statement indicating it is working with the Department of Justice to determine how to proceed regarding the Court’s order to refund past PTIN fees paid.
In McNeill v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 23 (June 19, 2017), the Tax Court held that taxpayer challenges to penalties imposed in the wake of a TEFRA partnership audit or litigation can be challenged in collection due process (CDP) proceedings. It was always clear that if a taxpayer had personal defenses to a penalty asserted at the partnership level, the taxpayer could pay the penalty (and any associated interest), file a claim for refund, and have his personal defenses considered by the IRS and the courts.
What You Need to Know About the IRS’s Campaign to Identify Foreign Non-Filers Through a W-8ECI Matching Program
On May 23, 2017, IRS Officials announced in an industry webcast that the IRS began a campaign to identify foreign companies that should be filing Form 1120-F, but have not. The officials also warned that the IRS intends to follow up on every potential non-compliant company it identifies and refer some for further audit. Apparently initial letters have just been sent to companies or will be coming “very, very soon.”
In January, the IRS announced a rollout of its compliance campaigns targeting certain issues on which the IRS Large Business & International (LB&I) will focus its examinations. It is part of LB&I’s shift to issue-focused examinations in light of a diminished IRS budget. Since the announcement, LB&I has been conducting a series of webinars on its 13 new campaigns. On June 6, LB&I executives provided information on its Related-Party Transactions (RPT) campaign, which is one of the 13 campaigns.
The IRS proposed estate tax deficiencies of hundreds of millions of dollars against the Estate of Michael Jackson, accusing the Estate of undervaluing the assets held by the King of Pop at his death. Much of the case has been settled, but the parties still dispute the value of the Gloved One’s image and likeness, with the IRS contending it was worth $161 million and the estate contending the value was far less. A trial on this issue (along with the value of certain music catalogues) was held in February of 2017.
Mike Sorrentino (“The Situation”) Has More on His Agenda Than Gym, Tan, Laundry: Tax Evasion & Structuring Charges Create a Legal Situation
Michael Sorrentino, better known as “The Situation” on MTV’s popular reality show The Jersey Shore, was recently hit with a superseding indictment issued by the grand jury on April 7, 2017. The Situation had previously been charged, along with his brother, on September 24, 2014 with tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the IRS. Prosecutors allege that Sorrentino and his brother set up multiple businesses to profit from The Situation’s celebrity status during the heyday of The Jersey Shore phenomenon, and that they conspired to avoid paying tax on nearly $9 million earned just in the 2010-2012 period. According to the indictment, The Situation and his brother filed false returns claiming fraudulent deductions and underreporting business income, particularly by using S-corporations and non-issuance of 1099s to hide income, all the while using income from those businesses to fund their extravagant lifestyles, including the purchase of luxury vehicles.
Taxpayers Beware: IRS Announces You Can’t Rely On What IRS Says In Its Website FAQs Because They Are Not “Legal Authority.”
The IRS is distancing itself from the advice it offers to taxpayers on its OWN website. The IRS announced on May 18th in Memorandum SBSE-04-0517-0030, that “FAQs that appear on IRS.gov but that have not been published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (IRB) are not legal authority and should not be used to sustain a position.” Essentially the IRS has told its examiners that if a taxpayer relies on an FAQ on the IRS’s website, the examiner need not follow that authority and can find against the taxpayer unless the advice in the FAQ have been published in something that is “legal authority.” Many taxpayers might find it surprising that they can’t rely on what the IRS posts on its own website. We certainly did. Accordingly, before any taxpayer relies on the IRS website, the taxpayer should be sure there is other “legal authority.”
DOJ Seeks to Enforce John Doe Summons Issued to Coinbase Regarding Bitcoin Transactions Not Reported in Income
In November, 2016, the IRS served a John Doe summons on Coinbase, one of the largest institutions holding bitcoins for clients, seeking information about virtually all bitcoin transactions by U.S. customers over a multi-year period (2013-2015). Initially, aggrieved customers filed an action challenging the summons (perhaps fearing that Coinbase would not do so), but subsequently Coinbase intervened, and the U.S. sought to enforce the summons issued to Coinbase. The matter is currently pending in the Northern District of California. United States v. Coinbase, Inc., No. 3:17-cv-01431-JSC (N.D. Cal. March 16, 2017). Interestingly, in March of 2017, the IRS filed a declaration noting that only 1,000 individual returns from 2013 to 2015 reported gain or loss from the sale of bitcoin (while anecdotal evidence suggests that there were hundreds of thousands of transactions). The IRS considers bitcoin property, rather than a currency (IRS Notice 2014-21), and the failure of taxpayers to report transactions certainly suggests the potential for significant non-compliance. Although the decision is still pending, if the IRS prevails, there could be audits coming down the line.
Recent TIGTA Report on Criminal Enforcement Against Employment Tax Noncompliance Criticizes IRS for Ineffectively Addressing Employment Tax Crimes, Offers Lessons to Employers/Responsible Parties Under Audit or In IRS Collections
On March 21, 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report titled, “A More Focused Strategy Is Needed to Effectively Address Egregious Employment Tax Crimes.” The Report noted that, as of December, 2015, 1.4 million employers owed approximately $45.6 billion in unpaid employment taxes, interest, and penalties. The report indicated that in 2015, the IRS assessed the TFRP against 38% fewer responsible persons than just five years before (asserting the TFRP against just 11% of responsible individuals), and that simultaneously the number of employers with egregious employment tax noncompliance (20 or more quarters of delinquent employment taxes) has tripled in a 17-year period. TIGTA was concerned that, despite this noncompliance, there are fewer than 100 criminal convictions for employment tax violations per year.
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