IRS Criminal Tax Case 2016: Father Hien Minh Ngun

A Catholic Priest, Father Hien Minh Ngun (San Jose, CA) plead guilty to tax evasion. Over 4 years (2008-2011) he stole funds from parishioners. He took funds donated to his church and deposited them into his personal bank account. He did not tell his tax preparer, did not keep records, filed false income tax returns and did not report the income. He faces up to 5 years in jail for each tax year.

He decided to speak with IRS Criminal Investigation Division Special Agents who showed up unexpectedly to interview him and in doing so waived his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. He failed to request counsel. He answered questions and contradicted himself, which lead the IRS to pursue him.

For others in this tax predicament a waiver of the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination may prove fatal to any subsequent defense by counsel (which was the case here). Whether the IRS advises the taxpayer that he is the target of an investigation or a witness, the US Supreme Court has ruled that you have the right to assert your constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. See Bellis v. US 417 US 85 (1974).

In the Bellis case, the taxpayer was not allowed a 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which is held only in a personal capacity. In Bellis, the 5th amendment privilege was not available to a member of a dissolved law firm who was acting as a representative of a partnership. The party was subpoenaed by a grand jury to produce the law partnership financial books and records. Since the partnership had an institutional identity the petitioner held the records in a representative not a personal capacity.

The US Supreme Court held that the 5th amendment privilege is “limited to its historic function of protecting only the natural individual from compulsory incrimination thru his own testimony or personal records (See US v White 322 US 694,701).

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