Offshore Tax Evasion Scheme to Defraud IRS Alleged in Indictment of Miami Beach Developers

A high priority for IRS Whistleblower cases is the abuse of offshore “tax havens” or offshore financial centers to conceal income from the IRS that is subject to U.S. taxation. Over drinks in Miami Beach recently with IRS agents who worked the massive UBS matter, I discussed some of the recent announced cases the IRS has made involving offshore abuses.

Using shell corporations and “nominee” entities established in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, or a host of other countries that market “secrecy,” those looking to conceal income from the IRS, or assets from potential creditors, have made offshore tax havens a booming business.

An interesting example of allegations of offshore tax violations was described in the Justice Department’s announcement yesterday of the indictment of two Miami Beach hotel developers. Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen-Levy. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and filing false tax returns. The government alleged as follows:

According to court documents, the two men and their co-conspirators used nominees and shell companies formed in tax haven jurisdictions, including the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to conceal their assets and income from the IRS. In order to further conceal their assets and income from the IRS, court documents state the men also provided false and forged documents to banks, opened bank accounts in the name of nominees, titled their personal residences and luxury vehicles in the name of shell companies, filed false and fraudulent tax returns, failed to file other tax returns, suborned perjury in a civil matter pending before the New York Supreme Court by directing individuals to testify falsely under oath, and induced other individuals to make false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

Both defendants are permanent resident aliens who, in 2000, received approximately $33 million from the sale of the New York Flatotel, according to the government. They transferred the proceeds using various Swiss bank accounts in the names of foreign nominee entities, including at least one “bearer share” corporation.

When bearer shares are used, the corporation’s records do not list its owners, as the owners are whoever has physical possession of the stock certificates. As IRS Special Agent Scott Johnson testified by affidavit, “[b]earer share corporations are often used to hide the true ownership of assets because ownership records are not maintained and nominee officers and directors are often used to control the affairs of the corporation.’

Later, the defendants allegedly transferred the funds to accounts of nominee companies at that bank’s New York location, and later to the escrow account of a Florida attorney. The government also alleged that defendants used the money to “fund a luxury lifestyle for themselves and for their family members.”

Offshore tax abuse remains a great priority of the IRS, and thus is a major focus of many IRS Whistleblower claims. The new IRS Whistleblower Program recognizes that whistleblowers have an enforceable right to 15-30% of what the IRS recovers based on information whistleblowers provide.

The government’s full press release is below:

MIAMI BEACH HOTEL DEVELOPERS INDICTED AND CHARGED WITH TAX FRAUD May 26, 2010 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Acting Assistant Attorney General John DiCicco, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, announced that defendants Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen-Levy, each with residences in Miami Beach, Fla., have been charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and filing false tax returns. Both defendants have been ordered detained pending trial.

According to court documents, the two men and their co-conspirators used nominees and shell companies formed in tax haven jurisdictions, including the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to conceal their assets and income from the IRS. In order to further conceal their assets and income from the IRS, court documents state the men also provided false and forged documents to banks, opened bank accounts in the name of nominees, titled their personal residences and luxury vehicles in the name of shell companies, filed false and fraudulent tax returns, failed to file other tax returns, suborned perjury in a civil matter pending before the New York Supreme Court by directing individuals to testify falsely under oath, and induced other individuals to make false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

According to court documents, Mauricio Cohen Assor and Leon Cohen-Levy were the developers and owners of several residential hotels known by the trade name Flatotel International. In 2000, the defendants sold one of their New York hotels and generated proceeds of $33 million. The income earned from the sale of the hotel was never reported on United States tax returns by the Cohens or by any of their related entities.

According to court documents, among the assets and income the Cohens concealed from the IRS are a $45 million investment portfolio, a condominium at Trump World Tower in New York City that was worth as much as $10 million, the personal residence of Mauricio Cohen Assor on Fisher Island in Miami Beach worth approximately $20 million, the personal residence of defendant Leon Cohen Levy in Miami Beach worth approximately $26 million, the personal residence of the daughter of Mauricio Cohen Assor in Bal Harbor, Fla., commercial properties valued in excess of $55 million in Miami Beach, luxury vehicles, including a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Bentley, a Ferrari Testarossa, a BMW Z8, a Dodge Viper, a limousine and a $1.2 million helicopter.

A criminal indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the Cohens each face a maximum of 14 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1 million, plus being ordered to pay tax, penalties and interest.

Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Acting Assistant Attorney General John DiCicco commended the investigative efforts of the IRS agents involved in this case, as well as Senior Litigation Counsel Kevin M. Downing and Trial Attorneys Mark F. Daly and John E. Sullivan of the Tax Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Neiman, who are prosecuting the case.

More information about the Justice Department’s Tax Division and its enforcement efforts is available at www.usdoj.gov/tax/.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at https://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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