Seasoned Octopus

Most of the Internal Revenue Service’s 90,000 employees are financial bureaucrats, working to collect the taxes that finance our government. But the Criminal Investigations unit, or IRS-CI, is an elite division of 3,700 financial crimefighters dedicated to protecting those taxes. Last month, they released their Fiscal 2013 annual report. And business sure is booming! In 2013, IRS special agents initiated 5,314 investigations (up 3.7% from 5,125 in 2012) and recommended 4,364 prosecutions (up 17.9% from 3,710 in 2012). There were 3,865 indictments and 3,311 convictions (the IRS doesn’t take someone to criminal court unless they’re pretty sure they can win). And 2,812 miscreants won themselves the proverbial “three hots and a cot” for terms averaging 25 months.

Most of IRS-CI’s targets are plain old crooks. But some of them are just so awkwardly entertaining, we had to share their stories:

  • Every time you pump a gallon of gas, you pay 18.3 cents in tax to build and repair federal roads. But there’s a little-known exemption that lets off-road users like drag racers apply for a refund. Evan Knoll, the “King of Drag Racing” and owner of Torco Racing Fuels in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saw that exemption and smelled opportunity. (Maybe it was something in the fumes?) Knoll claimed $83 million in refunds over nine years from 1999-2008 before pleading guilty to nine counts of fraud and drawing a 14-year sentence. Now that’s some high-octane cheating!
  • Edward Picardi was a surgeon in South Dakota, who spent way too much time performing liposuction on his tax bill. First, he ran his income through a series of entities organized in Ireland, Hungary, Cyprus, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. (Really? Hungary? Were the Cayman Islands just too obvious?) Then he deposited it into various foreign accounts he controlled through a New Zealand trust, in the name of one last corporation established on the delightfully sunny island of Nevis. After several weeks in trial, the judge in Picardi’s trial surgically removed five years of freedom from the good doctor’s future. Without anesthesia. Ouch.
  • Michael Chen owned the Fune Ya Japanese Restaurant in Richmond, California, just north of Berkeley. (Apparently the fried banana dessert was a hit.) Chen kept detailed records of his daily sales in 26 boxes marked “Seasoned Octopus.” But he never reported his cash sales to the IRS. Oops. He also paid his employees $548,919 in cash without sending the IRS any payroll tax on their income. Another mistake. Now the long tentacle of the law has got him for 33 months, enjoying his meals in a place where they don’t serve octopus at all.
  • You might think that if you’re already stuck in jail, you can’t commit tax fraud. Well, you would be wrong. Michael Joseph III was feeling “underemployed” at the Apalachee Correctional Institution in the Florida panhandle when he hit upon one of those brilliant ideas we all wish we had thought of. Why not while away those idle hours filing false tax returns using other inmates’ names and social security numbers? Yeah! And while we’re at it, why not have the IRS mail the refunds to momma’s house? Unfortunately for our enterprising would-be accountant, prison officials discovered the scheme during a routine mail search. Joseph pled guilty to 41 various offenses and drew another 63 months behind bars. At least now he’s doing time in a classy federal joint instead of some loser state can.

We all know taxes have gone up this past year, and we all know nobody enjoys paying. That’s the bad news. The good news is you don’t have to risk a visit from the tax cops to pay less. You just need a plan. There’s no shortage of court-tested, IRS-approved strategies for paying less. So if you’re still worried about April 15, and you haven’t asked us about our planning service, what are you waiting for?

Toby Keith’s “I Love This Tax Problem”

In 2003, country music superstar Toby Keith released “I Love This Bar,” the first single from his Shock’n Y’All album. (For those of you under age 25 or so, an “album” is . . . oh, never mind.) Billboard predicted the song would become “a beer-joint staple for years to come,” and it promptly shot to #1 on the charts, selling over a million copies.

“I Love This Bar” is just one of Keith’s odes to drinking — he’s also scored hits with “Whiskey Girl,” “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” and “Get My Drink On.” “Red Solo Cup,” his 2011 smash, made the red plastic cups the symbol of “party time” for the under-30 set. Naturally, with that sort of appeal, Keith had to open a bar of his own. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet pioneered the concept, opening dozens of tourist traps Margaritavilles anywhere middle-aged men of a certain disposition gather to recall their youth. If Jimmy can do it, why can’t Toby?

And so it came to pass that there are now fifteen Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill locations from sea to shining sea. Keith’s namesake joints feature guitar-shaped bars, beer served in mason jars (just like in the song), and elegant southern fare like chicken-fried chicken (?), fried bologna sandwiches (!), and deep-fried twinkies (!!). You’ll find them plunked down in cities across our fair land, including such traditional country-music strongholds as Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, and even Syracuse.

It’s that last location in upstate New York — 1,400 miles from Keith’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma — that brings us to our story. You’d think the guy who sang “Beer for My Horses” with Willie Nelson would have no problem turning a profit with sales from a bar packed with thirsty fans. But apparently, you’d be wrong. The New York Department of Taxation and Finance has just hit the store with a “tax warrant” for $189,392.17 in unpaid sales taxes. The warrant lets the state levy the business’ bank account or even seize the business entirely. (The restaurant remains open for now, as officials seem to think they have a better job collecting if they don’t kill their golden goose. Phew!)

Bars and restaurants are notoriously risky businesses, even with “can’t miss” concepts like “I Love This Bar.” (If you think rising meat and cheese prices are hitting your wallet hard, just imagine what happens when you’re feeding thousands of fans a month!) Restaurant owners who find themselves in trouble can be tempted to “borrow” from the government by hanging on to taxes they collect on behalf of customers and employees. The problem, unfortunately, is that every day they continue, they fall deeper and deeper into the hole — and sometimes they never dig back out.

Keith’s restaurant may be struggling. But the singer himself isn’t having any money problems. Forbes magazine has called him “Country’s $500 Million Man,” and “a one-man cash machine.” He owns a liquor company, a record label, and a golf course. There’s even an eight-passenger Learjet, painted in Oklahoma Sooner crimson and cream, outfitted with saddle-leather seats. But one thing Keith doesn’t own is “his” restaurant in New York. While he does own chunks of the first few locations, he generally just licenses the newer locations to outside operators in exchange for a piece of the gross.

We realize few of you could imagine making millions selling fried bologna sandwiches. But we can imagine how unhappy you’d be if word leaked out that you owed enough tax to pay for an entire house! That’s why we work so hard to help you plan to pay less. So call us if you’d rather spend your money treating your friends to a round of drinks. And remember, we’re here for them, too!

Link

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill to renew a package of more than 50 expired tax breaks cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Tuesday.

Other hurdles remain, however.

The Senate voted 96 to 3 to open debate on the bill, which has strong backing from the business community but would add about $85 billion to the budget deficit.

Almost every year, Congress routinely renews the tax breaks. This year, though, they were allowed to expire at the start of the year. The Senate bill would extend the tax breaks through 2015.

“Our constituents are depending on us to extend these provisions,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “We will not pull the plug before our nation’s recovery is complete. By passing this tax extenders package we will build our nation’s economy more quickly.”

The tax breaks enjoy broad bipartisan support. But some Republican senators want the opportunity to change the package, and it’s not clear whether Reid will allow amendments.

Republican amendments include making some of the tax cuts permanent while adding others, including the repeal of a medical device tax that helps fund President Barack Obama’s health law. Republican senators may be forced to choose between blocking a bill that provides popular tax breaks and accepting it unchanged.

“Americans deserve tax certainty, not more short-term measures,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Thune said he wants to offer several amendments, including a permanent ban on state and local Internet access taxes. A temporary moratorium on such taxes is due to expire Nov. 1.

The package pairs broad tax breaks that benefit millions with narrow ones that don’t.

Among the biggest breaks for businesses: A tax credit for research and development, an exemption that allows financial companies to shield foreign profits from being taxed by the U.S., and several provisions that allow businesses to write off capital investments more quickly. There is also a generous tax credit for using wind farms and other renewable energy sources to produce electricity.

The biggest tax break for individuals allows people who live in states without an income tax to deduct state and local sales taxes on their federal returns. Another protects struggling homeowners who get their mortgages reduced from paying income taxes on the amount of debt that was forgiven.

Other more narrow provisions include tax breaks for film and theater producers, NASCAR race track owners, manufacturers of electric motorcycles and teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies.

 

http://news.yahoo.com/senate-votes-open-debate-renewing-tax-breaks-154425118–finance.html

New Law Offers Special Tax Option for Philippines Relief Donations; Cash Contributions Until April 14 Can Be Claimed On 2013 Returns

Issue Number:    IR-2014-46

Inside This Issue

WASHINGTON — Taxpayers who make cash contributions on or before April 14, 2014, for Philippines typhoon relief can get an immediate tax benefit by choosing to claim them on their 2013 returns, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Under special legislation enacted last week, taxpayers can choose to treat cash contributions made on or after March 26, 2014, and before midnight on Monday, April 14, 2014, as if made on Dec. 31, 2013. This special provision only applies to charitable cash contributions for the relief of victims of Typhoon Haiyan. It is similar to the accelerated relief provided following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Eligible contributions can be claimed on either a 2013 or 2014 return, but not both. Contributions made after April 14, 2014, but before the end of this year can only be claimed on a 2014 return.

Contributions made by text message, check, credit card or debit card qualify for this special option. Donations charged to a credit card before midnight on April 14, 2014, are eligible contributions even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until after that date. Also, donations made by check are eligible if they are mailed by April 14.

Taxpayers can benefit from their donations most quickly by filing their 2013 returns electronically and choosing direct deposit. Refunds can be directly deposited into a savings, checking or brokerage account, or used to purchase Series I U.S. savings bonds.

The Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act, enacted March 25, 2014, does not apply to contributions of property. Gifts made directly to individual victims are not deductible.

To get a tax benefit, individuals must itemize their deductions on Schedule A. Those who claim the standard deduction, including all short-form filers, are not eligible.

Taxpayers should be sure their contributions go to qualified charities. Most organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible donations are listed in a searchable online database available on IRS.gov under Exempt Organizations Select Check. Some organizations, such as churches or governments, may be qualified even though they are not listed on IRS.gov.

The IRS reminds donors that contributions to foreign organizations generally are not deductible. IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, provides information on making contributions to charities.

Federal law requires that taxpayers keep a record of any deductible donations they make. For donations by text message, a telephone bill will meet the recordkeeping requirement if it shows the name of the charity, the date of the contribution and the amount of the contribution. For cash contributions made by other means, be sure to keep a bank record, such as a cancelled check, or a receipt from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. In addition, for donations of $250 or more, taxpayers must obtain a written acknowledgment by the charity.

Publication 526 has further details on the recordkeeping rules for cash contributions.

IRS Offers Advice on How to Choose a Tax Preparer

FS-2014-5, February 2014

Many people hire a professional when it’s time to file their tax return. If you pay someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS urges you to choose that person wisely. Even if you don’t prepare your own return, you’re still legally responsible for what is on it.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:

  • Check to be sure the preparer has a PTIN.  All paid tax preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask the preparer if they belong to a professional organization and attend continuing education classes.
  • Check the preparer’s history.  Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Check for disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For enrolled agents, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment. (Enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS and are specifically trained in federal tax planning, preparation and representation.) For certified public accountants, check with the state board of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar association. Ask about service fees.  Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
  • Ask to e-file your return.  Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. IRS has safely processed more than 1.2 billion e-filed tax returns.
  • Make sure the preparer is available.  Make sure you’ll be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions come up about your tax return.
  • Provide records and receipts.  Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
  • Never sign a blank return.  Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form.
  • Review your return before signing.  Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
  • Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN.  Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
  • Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS.  You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).