Friday, August 15, 2014

IRS Admits it has Been Disclosing Sensitive Taxpayer Information without Adequate Controls

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that some IRS contractor personnel without the appropriate background investigation had access to taxpayer and other sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information. TIGTA found that taxpayer data and other SBU information may be at risk due to a lack of background investigation requirements in five contracts for courier, printing, document recovery and sign language interpreter services. TIGTA found 12 more service contracts for which employee background checks were required by the contracts; however, some of the personnel did not have interim access approval or final background investigations before they began working on the contracts.

TIGTA made five recommendations to the IRS to ensure that the service contracts have security provisions included in the solicitation and contract, and that associated contractor personnel have appropriate interim access approval or final background investigation before working on the contract. In addition, TIGTA recommended that the IRS use the results of the contract reviews to train program office and procurement office staff on contractor security requirements and the necessity for contractor personnel to sign nondisclosure agreements prior to working on a contract. TIGTA also recommended that the Office of Chief Counsel work with the Department of Treasury Security Office to review the waiver currently in place that exempts expert witnesses from background investigations and to determine if the waiver is still appropriate given the current security environment.

The IRS agreed with four or the five recommendations. It disagreed with the recommendation that Chief Counsel work with the Department of Treasury with respect to the waiver that exempts expert witnesses from background investigations as it believes its current review is sufficient to address any security risks. I suppose if this was a baseball game the IRS's correction rate would .800. Unfortunately, the game here involves failure to protect taxpayer information. Thank goodness for TIGTA.

Contact the Wilson Tax Law Group if you believe your taxpayer data has been breached. 714-463-4430

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

California—Property Tax: Solar Energy System Exclusion Extended

In California there are basically two ways that your property taxes can be reassessed at full market value. One is when you sell or purchase the real property. The second is if you have new construction or have a major addition to the real property. There are numerous tax incentives both in California and at the Federal level to promote green energy. One such incentive includes the California property tax rules which were amended to provide an exclusion from classification as newly constructed for the construction or addition of an active solar energy system. Thus, if you install a solar energy system on your rooftop that will not cause your property taxes to increases because of new construction. The exclusion however was set to expire in 2015-16. The good news is that the exclusion has been extended and now applies to property tax lien dates through 2023-24 fiscal year. Under the new amendments the exclusion is repealed January 1, 2025 (formerly 2017). Therefore, active solar energy systems that qualify for the exclusion prior to January 1, 2025 (formerly, 2017) will continue to be excluded on and after that date until there is a subsequent change in ownership. See S.B. 871, Laws 2014, effective June 20, 2014. This is great news for anyone interested in installing a solar energy system because your property tax base will not be reassessed at fair market value and it will continue to increase at no more than 2 percent per year under Proposition 13. That is as long as Proposition 13 does not get repealed or amended.

If you are an owner of real estate or solar energy provider in California and have questions about property taxes or other types of solar tax incentives, please contact the Wilson Tax Law Group. We can be reached 714-463-4430.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wilson Tax Law Group - The Newport Beach Tax Attorney Blog: Former San Bernardino Accountant Sentenced to Four...

Wilson Tax Law Group - The Newport Beach Tax Attorney Blog: Former San Bernardino Accountant Sentenced to Four...: The San Bernardino Superior Court ordered an Apple Valley woman to pay restitution of approximately $962,000 to her former employer and more...

Former San Bernardino Accountant Sentenced to Four Years in State Prison for Income Tax Evasion

The San Bernardino Superior Court ordered an Apple Valley woman to pay restitution of approximately $962,000 to her former employer and more than $162,000 to the state representing the unpaid tax, penalties, interest, and the cost of the investigation. All income is taxable even embezzlement income. Raeanne Lacasse, 59, was sentenced to four years in state prison for three felony counts, including state income tax evasion and embezzlement with white collar crime enhancement. A San Bernardino construction company employed Lacasse between 2000 and 2010. Lacasse embezzled more than $1.1 million from her employer between 2006 and 2010 by issuing company checks to various third-party vendors for personal expenses and then reclassifying those checks as construction expenses. In addition, she forged payroll checks and deposited them into her personal bank accounts. The majority of the funds went to Lacasse’s home, car, and personal credit cards. Lacasse filed false personal income tax returns for 2006 through 2010, and failed to report more than $780,000 in embezzled income. All income is taxable including income from illegal sources. State tax crimes are often prosecuted by the local district attorney's office. In this case, the San Bernardino County District Attorneys Office prosecuted this case. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department jointly investigated the case with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and their Criminal Investigation Bureau. It is unclear whether the Franchise Tax Board aided in the investigation, but I would assume that they did. If you have questions about a state tax crime, please contact the Wilson Tax Law Group.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Federal Judge Blasts IRS Over "Missing" Emails

As you may recall, in 2013, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revealed that it had selected political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes. This led to wide condemnation of the agency and triggered several investigations, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal probe ordered by United States Attorney General Eric Holder. Initial reports described the selections as nearly exclusively of conservative groups with terms such as "Tea Party" in their names. Lawmakers called for the resignation of Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS's section on tax-exempt organizations. When Lerner refused to resign, she was placed on administrative leave. She eventually resigned effective September 23, 2013. The investigation continued by Congress and others. Investigators demanded that the IRS produce her emails. The IRS refused to produce her emails and then claimed that they had lost all her emails. This only intensified the investigations. Accordingly, a federal judge on July 10 ordered the IRS to submit to the court a written declaration under oath in the next 30 days about what happened to former IRS employee Lois Lerner’s "lost" emails and any other computer records reportedly lost by the Service. The ruling follows a petition by Judicial Watch, a conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation, for a status conference to discuss the IRS’s failure to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Lerner’s emails that the IRS says it lost (Judicial Watch v. IRS, No. 1:13-cv-1559). Lerner claimed that her emails were lost when her hard drive crashed on July 13, 2011, causing her to lose all her emails sent to recipients outside the IRS from mid-2009 to mid-2011. The emails sought by Judicial Watch cover portions of the same period for which the IRS on June 13, 2014, notified the House Committee on Ways and Means were lost or destroyed. In May 2013, Judicial Watch submitted four separate FOIA requests for IRS communications concerning the review process for organizations seeking tax-exempt status. One of the FOIA requests specifically sought Lerner’s communications with other IRS employees and with any government or private entity outside the IRS regarding the review and approval process for Code Sec. 501(c)(4) applicants from January 1, 2010, to the present. A second request sought communications for the same time-frame between the IRS and members of Congress and other government agencies, as well as any office of the Executive Branch. After the IRS failed to provide the information, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on October 9, 2013. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan also appointed Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola to manage and assist in discussions between Judicial Watch and the IRS about how to obtain any missing records from sources. Facciola is an expert in e-discovery. Sullivan also authorized Judicial Watch to submit a request for limited discovery into the missing IRS records after September 10. The Wilson Tax Law Group is following the investigations. If you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us.

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   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.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Orange County's Tax Health - OC CEO's Speech in Newport Beach

The Daily Pilot, in an article by reporter Jill Cowen, covered an appearance by Orange County CEO Giancola in Newport Beach last Thursday in which he talked about the county's taxes.  Due to an improving real estate market, this year's assessment roll of property values up by 6.42% over last year.  The bad news is that Giancola believes the county is subject to some backlash from the state following a law suit the county lost to the state involving allocation of vehicle license fee funds.  As a result, and as a result of an unfair stereotype regarding the wealth of Orange County, Giancola believes Orange County is subject to unfair cuts.

If you need an attorney experienced in property tax issues, you can contact Wilson Tax Law Group.