By Janet Novack and William P. Barrett, Forbes.com
For 24 years Vincent A. Spondello toiled away as an accountant for a group of related companies known as Monex, a large Newport Beach, Calif. precious metals dealer. A trusted employee, he prepared tax returns and was given such tasks as overseeing the destruction of old corporate documents. It turns out that some records that were supposedly destroyed he took home instead.
In May Spondello sent 25 boxes of original Monex papers to the Internal Revenue Service–documents that could buttress the IRS’ claim that Monex’s owners fraudulently moved around assets to avoid a $378 million tax bill. He made his document drop after hiring lawyers and filing a claim for a whistleblower reward that could total $57 million or more. Monex denies it owes anything, has fired Spondello and is demanding back its documents.
“He’s a good guy,” says Spondello lawyer Robert D. Coviello. “But he is a rat.”
Pay attention. There are Vincent Spondellos taking notes, taking names and taking documents across America, and beyond.
For years the IRS grudgingly paid stingy rewards to squealers who brought it mostly small cases; during 2004 and 2005, 428 informants received a total of $12 million–only 7% of the paltry $168 million all their leads brought in. But in 2006, hoping to entice insiders to rat out big-dollar cheats and corporate tax shelters and games, Congress directed the IRS to pay tipsters at least 15% and as much as 30% of taxes, penalties and interest collected in cases where $2 million or more is at stake.
The gambit seems to be working very well. The IRS continues to get thousands of small case tips a year. But in fiscal 2009, ended Oct. 30, the IRS Whistleblower Office also logged big case leads on 1,900 taxpayers, up from 1,246 in fiscal 2008, the first full year the new law was in effect. Dozens of these tips involve purported tax losses of $100 million or more. Sure, those are just allegations. But informants “often provide extensive documentation to support their claims,” the Whistleblower Office noted in a report. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a separate report, added up all the 2008 tips and found that $65 billion in unreported income was alleged.
The slow-moving IRS has yet to pay any bounties under the new scheme, which the Inspector General report said still had “deficiencies” in its execution. But the government itself is already reaping big rewards.
In June 2007 Bradley C. Birkenfeld–motivated in large part, he now acknowledges, by the new reward law–came to U.S. officials with documents in hand and laid out how his former employer, UBS AG, helped wealthy Americans hide money offshore. So far the investigation he triggered has produced a $780 million payment to the U.S. government from UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank; an unprecedented agreement by the Swiss to finger 4,450 U.S. taxpayers with secret UBS accounts; and criminal investigations of more than 150 American UBS clients. That, in turn, helped pressure 14,700 taxpayers to make “voluntary” disclosures of previously undisclosed offshore kitties during a special program earlier this year, yielding extra billions in tax for the Treasury. “The entire game has changed on international tax evasion,” crows IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.
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by Leroy Baker, Tax-News.com October 16, 2009
US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Doug Shulman has said that he is pleased with the response to the agency’s voluntary offshore bank account disclosure scheme, the deadline for which passed on October 15.
According to Shulman, the IRS received some 7,500 applications for the scheme, with disclosures ranging from USD10,000 to as much as USD100m associated with foreign bank accounts in all corners of the globe.
The latest offshore disclosure initiative seems to have been much more successful than a similar scheme administered by the IRS in 2004 known as the Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative. Under the 2004 amnesty, only 1,300 individuals came forward and the IRS collected about USD170m in unpaid tax. Shulman, however, has not disclosed how much the 2009 scheme will bring in for the Treasury, but it is certain to be a much higher figure.
The latest amnesty scheme was launched by the agency in March this year, and is just one of the many initiatives being used by the Obama administration to ensure that offshore income, both personal and corporate, is taxed in the US. Under the terms of the 2009 scheme, those making a voluntary disclosure about money held overseas face a penalty of 20% of the highest aggregate value of the account on one day in the last six years. The IRS also removed the threat of criminal prosecution. Ordinarily, if a taxpayer is discovered to have undeclared offshore income or assets, they face penalties up to 100% and possible jail time. The original deadline was set for September 23, but the IRS extended the amnesty until October 15 after it received an influx of requests from tax practitioners who themselves have been inundated with enquires about the scheme from their clients. Shulman warned that no further extensions will be granted, and that the agency will be unlikely to run another amnesty program any time soon.
Buoyed by the success of the 2009 amnesty, Shulman has revealed that the IRS is opening more representative offices abroad in places like Panama, China and Australia, and will also increase staffing levels in existing overseas offices, which include Barbados and Hong Kong.
The agency is also to create a dedicated team of enforcement and investigation officers to chase up wealthy individuals with complex, often international-based, financial arrangements, and President Obama’s 2010 budget includes extra resources for the IRS to hire almost 800 additional enforcement personnel.