Showing posts with label audits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audits. Show all posts

Monday, March 16, 2015

Be Careful Claiming Your Charitable Deduction for 2014


The IRS loves to audit people who claim charitable deductions.  The reason is that there are very strict record-keeping rules when it comes to charitable deductions and most people are not aware of them so the IRS usually finds a way to disallow the deduction, which of course triggers increased taxes, penalties and interest.  Do not let this happen to you.

 Generally, to claim a charitable contribution deduction for gifts of $250 or more in cash or property to charity, donors must get a written acknowledgment from the charity.  This is usually not a big deal.  For donations of property, the acknowledgment must include, among other things, a description of the items contributed.  Typically the place you donate the property gives you a blank receipt.  So you need to fill it out and make sure you list all the items donate.  You also need to determine the value of the property contributed if it is not cash, which sometimes can cause problems if the amount determined is incorrect.

 The law also requires that taxpayers have all acknowledgments in hand before filing their tax return.   The IRS does not like it when you go back to the charity to get an acknowledgment.  That said I have done this in the past and have been able to substantiate the deduction to the IRS' satisfaction.  However, I do not recommend doing this if you can avoid it. 

 Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions can claim gifts to charity.  You should also know there are special reporting requirements that apply to vehicle donations and taxpayers wishing to claim these donations must attach any required documents to their return. For example, Form 1098-C or a similar statement, must be provided to the donor by the organization and attached to the return. Furthermore, the deduction for a car, boat or airplane donated to charity is usually limited to the gross proceeds from its sale. This rule applies if the claimed value is more than $500.

 Additionally, there are a number of bogus groups masquerading as a charitable organization to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors.  This is one of the top 12 abuses listed by the IRS for 2015.  You should take a few extra minutes to ensure your hard-earned money or property goes to legitimate and currently eligible charity. 

 Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.  Also, don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money. People use credit card numbers to make legitimate donations but please be very careful when you are speaking with someone who called you.

 Also, don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

 If you have questions or concerns about a charitable deduction, or would like representation that includes advising you on the tax aspects of business transactions and how they should be reported on tax return to avoid tax problems or place you in the best position on the occasion you are contacted by the IRS or the state tax authorities, please contact the Wilson Tax Law Group

 To schedule an initial consultation, please contact our Orange County tax lawyers at (949) 397-2292 or use our online contact form.

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Jersey Shore’s” Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Indicted on Charges of Federal Tax Evasion. Pleads Not Guilty

For all those Jersey Shore fans, television personality Michael 'The Situation' Sorrentino and his brother Marc Sorrentino appeared in federal court in Newark to face an indictment alleging they did not properly pay taxes on $8.9 million in income 'The Situation' received from promotional activities, the U.S. Attorney announced. 'The Situation' and his brother, Marc, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Marc and 'The Situation' also are charged with three and two counts, respectively, of filing false tax returns for 2010 through 2012. 'The Situation' faces an additional count for allegedly failing to file a tax return for 2011, despite earning $1,995,757 that year.

According to the indictment, Michael and Marc Sorrentino filed false tax returns that incorrectly reported millions made from promotions and appearances,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. The brothers allegedly also claimed costly clothes and high-end cars and personal grooming as business expenses and allegedly funneled company money into personal accounts. As part of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges the brothers submitted or caused to be submitted to the IRS false documents which understated the gross receipts received by the brothers and their two companies. I suppose the IRS just does not watch enough reality TV and just doesn't understand 'The Situation' literally. Doesn't his reality TV personality require that he have high-end vehicles, silver chains and a waxed stomach at all times? Come on people.

At any rate, the conspiracy count carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the filing false tax return counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The count charging 'The Situation' with failing to file a tax return carries a maximum potential penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Contact the Wilson Tax Law Group, if you should ever need assistance in a criminal tax matter at 714-463-4430. This is what we do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Marijuana Dispensaries Who Pay Taxes in Cash Get Penalized

If you are a marijuana business, regardless of whether you are operating within state law, you have major tax and banking headaches.  Banking and most tax laws are governed by Federal law, which deems these activities illegal.  One challenge commonly faced by marijuana businesses is the lack of access to the banking system, because banks don't want to deal with businesses illegal under federal law.

Without banks, dispensaries pay the government in cash, but face a penalty for the cash payments.  This situation highlights the hypocrisy of the government's tax and drug policies, requiring payment on the one hand, punishing you for paying on the other.  A recent case filed in U.S. Tax Court by a Colorado dispensary, Allgreens LLC, is the most recent challenge to this Catch-22 created by the government. Unfortunately, the IRS is probably going to win because it is just following the letter of the law here - a change to the tax or the drug laws is necessary for a fix.

Financial institutions generally refuse to open accounts for marijuana businesses due to the intersection with federal law and, once the bank finds out a customer is involved in marijuana activities, will also drop accounts for the existing customers who have such businesses. 
Banks do not want to risk the FDIC revoking its deposit insurance and other federal agencies cracking down on them for knowingly depositing monies from businesses deemed illegal drug trafficking activities under federal law.

Without many banking options, marijuana businesses are forced to operate primarily in cash. As a result, these businesses may have little option other than to make their tax payments in cash.  This means they are unable to make their deposits through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.  The IRS penalizes businesses and people who pay their payroll taxes in cash.   The IRS is assessing a ten percent penalty on marijuana dispensaries for paying their federal employee the only way they can.  

The IRS cannot efficiently deal with large amounts of cash, so it imposes penalties in the payroll tax situation.  This is confounding because these businesses are simply paying their taxes using the same currency created by our federal government, which would be acceptable in other situations (e.g., auctions and individual income tax payments under IRM 21.3.4.7).   Dispensaries want to follow the law and pay over payroll taxes and, due to no fault on the part of the dispensaries, the IRS penalizes them an additional ten percent.  While the IRS has suggested alternative methods for paying their taxes, these are likely inconsistent with federal anti-money laundering laws, requiring the use of unnecessary third parties (the use of additional steps that mask the true nature of illegal income in certain situations can be considered money laundering).

Given these current challenges, the IRS should waive this ten percent penalty for marijuana businesses at least on a temporary basis until there is greater clarity whether a reasonable cause exception is available.  Unless and until these businesses have sufficient access to the banking system to meet their obligations under the Internal Revenue Code, the IRS's imposition of penalties is simply unfair.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Wilson Tax Law Group.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tax Problems Facing Marijuana Dispensaries, This Time From the City of Los Angeles



The LA times published an interesting article about marijuana dispensaries operating in Los Angeles.  The article focuses on the interesting fact that as Los Angeles tries to clamp down on the number of marijuana dispensaries operating in Los Angeles by making them follow Proposition D requirements, more than 450 medical marijuana shops filed business tax renewals with the Office of Finance.  This number is more than three times as many stores than what is estimated to be allowed to stay open.  So while local lawmakers are troubled by the number of medical marijuana shops that still exist in Los Angeles, the Office of Finance has no problem cashing in on all the taxes being collected from them.  The article states that Los Angeles collected roughly $2.1 million from medical marijuana tax renewals this year, an Office of Finance staffer told a City Council committee Monday.

The interesting thing about this article is that City Council is upset that these people are paying business taxes because now the City cannot use tax evasion statutes as a method to shut them down.   It seems to me that these people are trying to comply with the tax code so whether or not they comply with Proposition D is not the tax-collecting agencies' business.   The City is so upset at all the business tax renewals, but has no problem collecting the roughly $2.1 million in revenues from medical marijuana shops.  Nor should they have any problem with it - Council members would be forfeiting their jobs if they took the position that the illegal businesses should be issued refunds.

In reality, the juxtaposition between collecting taxes from someone while turning a blind eye to the source of the money is hardly a new story.  This happens every time the IRS comes in to count the drug money after the DEA makes a big bust.  Even illegal businesses have to pay taxes.  Nonetheless, you don't usually see the opposite scenario - e.g., the DEA swooping in after the IRS audits a tax return - as the City Council members seem to support here.   The sharing of tax information between taxing and law enforcement agencies is usually a one-way street.  In non-tax cases, the Federal tax privacy law, IRC Section 6103(i)(1), provides that the IRS can share return information with another federal investigative agency only with a court order.

The government relies on taxes to operate and it would inhibit people from filing true tax returns if they thought that the information would be made public or would be shared with other government agencies.  The privacy of tax return information was also a qualified privilege under Federal common law before Congress enacted Section 6103.  In this situation, it would behoove whoever is advocating and lobbying on behalf of the dispensaries to not only be familiar with the medical marijuana laws and business laws, but also tax law and policy.

As an attorney who understands criminal law and tax law, I can tell you that medical marijuana dispensaries get no breaks that other businesses get under the state tax code.  They are treated as illegal drug trafficking activities under the California Revenue and Taxation Code. So what does this mean? 

It means both the Feds and California will disallow all the business expenses of a marijuana dispensary that a normal business is entitled to deduct.  As a result, marijuana dispensaries will be taxed on their gross receipts for income tax purposes. California's tax code is basically "monkey see, monkey do," adopting the Federal tax code almost rule for rule.  Under Federal law, if a business violated public policy or is illegal, then it cannot take advantage of deductions or credits under the tax code.  Because federal tax law deems these activities as illegal drug trafficking activities, so does California.  These rules are completely screwed up because they encourage these types of businesses to operate under the radar for tax purposes.   Fortunately, it is not an entirely slam dunk case for the tax authorities because there are some legitimate tax "loopholes."  There are ways to operate so as to legitimately minimize these tax burdens.

Much of this is covered in a recent article I wrote on the Taxation Of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.  I suggest any marijuana dispensary contact an experienced tax attorney who knows the marijuana dispensary tax rules inside and out.  There are ways to follow the tax rules and not have to pay taxes on the gross receipts of the dispensary.  Feel free to contact the Wilson Tax Law Group, if you have any questions. Our firm has significant experience addressing tax problems facing marijuana dispensaries.




Sunday, June 15, 2014

IRS (Probably) Spent More Money than Tax Owed in Symbolic Tax Court Victory

Symbolic of what?  I'll leave that to you.  From a Tax Court opinion released earlier this week, file this under Ridiculous Things the IRS Does:

Taxpayers filed a perfectly correct return listing their taxable social security income on the correct line.  IRS received the return and, using its big brain, decided the social security income was nontaxable, recalculates the tax, and issued the taxpayers an additional $548 refund.  Somehow, the IRS later realized the taxpayers were right and they shouldn't have sent the extra dollar bills, so they audited the couple and demanded they repay the $548.  When the couple declined, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency, on which the couple appealed to the tax court.  Somehow, probably driven by the couple's righteous indignation, the case went all the way to trial, where it was decided in a judicial opinion.  The taxpayers argued they shouldn't have to pay for the IRS's mistake, but the court found in favor of the government.

Granted, the taxpayers were technically in the wrong under the law - a "rebate refund" can be reclaimed by the IRS through examination procedures.  Also, "easy come, easy go" should prevail here.

But the real losers here are the American taxpayers.  Someone in the IRS decided it would be worthwhile to take this thing all the way, over a few measly dollars, and issue a notice of deficiency, giving appeal rights - a ticket to the Tax Court - to these taxpayers.  Hours of some IRS auditor's time dealing with these taxpayers, hours of time spent by paralegals, secretaries, and attorneys at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel to prepare and try the case, and hours spent by the judge, his/her staff, and the judicial clerk to arrive at this opinion. (And don't forget the cost of gas to Tax Court for the IRS Attorney, mailing costs for pleadings, and the cost of flying the judge to Texas and setting him/her up in a hotel to try the case.) Chances this cost the government and, by extension, the American people, far more than its worth are pretty high.  The full opinion can be found here.

Posted by our Newport Coast Tax Attorney at wilsontaxlaw.com.

Tax Court Draws Bright Line in Completed Contract Method of Accounting Cases



What the Tax Court gives with one hand, it can take away with the other.

That's the lesson one can learn from the pair of cases issued this year dealing with the completed contract method of accounting (CCM).  The Tax Court's opinion in Shea Homes, Inc. v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No.3 (2014) was a great win for large-scale home developers like Shea Homes whose contracts to build and develop entire communities can take several years to complete.  The IRS had taken the unfortunate position that Shea Homes' contracts were not long term contracts and that the infrastructure improvements to the roads and building community areas were not included in determining when the contract was completed - which would have forced Shea Homes to recognize all of its income before knowing how much it would ultimately have in expenses.  It was a resounding victory for Shea Homes, though, as the Tax Court found that they were long term home-construction contracts and the contracts were not completed in earlier years when the contracts closed escrow.  The Tax Court relied on the facts that the community areas and the infrastructure were part of their contracts with the ultimate home purchasers and held that those costs were properly included in the tests to determine whether the CCM could be used and when the contracts were completed.  A broad reading of that opinion could have been used to support the proposition that builders who only did infrastructure and community improvements could also use the CCM.

That is, until the Tax Court issued its recent opinion in Howard Hughes Company, LLC v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 20 (2014).  In what appeared to be less of a sequel and more of a two-part movie, the Tax Court drew a bright line to exclude builders who build infrastructure and community areas, but don't also construct homes, from the test.  The Tax Court made no bones about it, saying:

"Our Opinion today draws a bright line.  A taxpayer's contract can qualify as a home construction contract only if the taxpayer builds... or installs integral components to dwelling units... .  It is not enough for the taxpayer to merely pave the road leading to the home, though that may be necessary to the ultimate sale and use of a home."

While there is some logic to the Tax Court's opinion, a plain reading of the regulations and the statute don't give this tax attorney the sense that they are so narrow.  Especially in light of the proposed regulations which would broaden the costs that can be included.  Proposed Income Tax Regs., 73 Fed. Reg. 45182 (Aug. 4, 2008) (I don't buy the idea that the IRS can, on the one hand, issue regulations but, on the other hand, say that the regulation is not supported by the terms of the statute.  Chevron, anyone?  Separation of powers?).  I think we can expect the taxpayers in Hughes to appeal, so there will certainly be more to the story.  Stay posted.

If you are in need of an attorney on this or any other tax issue, you can contact our Newport Beach Tax Lawyer at wilsontaxlaw.com

IRS "Adopts" Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Except No Actual Taxpayer Rights Adopted

The IRS issued a press releases this week, which can be found here, alerting taxpayers to the newly adopted Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which are outlined here.  Except there are no new rights and nothing can be "adopted" when it is a list of responsibilities and rights already belonging to the IRS and taxpayers.  Imagine if McDonald's put a customer "Bill of Rights" on their menu, which said that, when you pay for a hamburger, we'll give you a hamburger, except when we don't, in which case you can complain to your cashier and then to the manager to see if they care.  The IRS's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, included in Publication 1, which presumably will be sent to taxpayers during audits, provides the following:


The Right to Be Informed
The Right to Quality Service
The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard
The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
The Right to Finality
The Right to Privacy
The Right to Confidentiality
The Right to Retain Representation
The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

The problem with this list of rights isn't just that they don't (and can't, as a matter of law) provide additional, substantive, judicially-enforceable rights to taxpayers than can be found in statutes, regulations, and case law.  Even outside of a court of law, parallel changes to the IRS's Internal Revenue Manual would be needed adding more responsibilities to IRS employees for this list to have any teeth when a taxpayer fights against the IRS. Without the force of law or a substantive change in internal IRS procedures, they are little more than PR Buzz.  It is as though they were trying to put a positive spin on something that intuitively sounds unpleasant.  I imaging the process went something like this:

     IRS Commissioner, to PR Guy: I want to make sure the taxpayers know that the IRS can collect every penny you owe in taxes, including interest and penalties, every cent of it! 

     PR Guy:  But that sounds pretty negative.  It won't come off well for us...

    IRS Commissioner:  How about, "The good news is the IRS can't collect more than you owe."

     PR Guy:  I don't know.  I think taxpayers will see right through it.

     IRS Commissioner:  Make it happen!

Even if that weren't the exchange, we still somehow ended up with "The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax."

According to the IRS, this means "Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly."  That sounds great!  But, what is "the amount of tax legally due?"  Under the law, when the IRS assesses a tax, that becomes tax legally due.  That amount grows with interest and penalties, and you have to pay those, too, because they are also legally due. Then, what does it mean to "apply all tax payments properly?"  Under well-established law, unless you specifically direct a tax payment you make to a specific tax year, the IRS can properly apply that payment to any of your tax liabilities for any year as the IRS sees fit.  So, this "right" amounts to this: "The IRS can collect all the taxes, penalties, and interest you owe until they are fully paid, and the IRS will apply your payments to your taxes, but will do so in a manner fits its own best interest in most cases."

Ultimately, there should be one item in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, bolded for emphasis: You have the right to not blindly trust the IRS to act in your best interest.  Put that on a poster and slap it on the IRS walls.

Form more, visit Wilsontaxlaw.com, the best Newport Beach tax attorney.