A guest post from Dean Zerbe, senior policy analyst for the National Whistleblower Center and former tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.
Whistleblowers helped the IRS collect more than $1.4 billion in criminal fines, civil forfeitures, and reporting violations in fiscal year 2018, according to an agency report released Wednesday.
Of that record amount, more than $300 million went to IRS whistleblowers – an average of 21.7 percent of proceeds collected.That’s an increase from fiscal year 2017, when the average reward was 17 percent.
It was a record setting year in proceeds collected and award amounts paid, according to Lee D. Martin, director of the IRS Whistleblower Office. Since 2007, the program has made more than $800 million in whistleblower awards based on the collection of $5 billion.
In a written statement, Stephen M. Kohn, president of the National Whistleblower Center, called the report “the best news of the year for whistleblowers.” The IRS program is now working well, he wrote. “Whistleblowers who witness tax frauds will be encouraged to take the risk, and report the crimes. This is game changing.”
In February 2018, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, requiring the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to include penalties for Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) violations in calculating whistleblower awards. Prior to this statutory change being signed into law, FBAR violations were not included in the calculation of IRS whistleblower awards.…
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice officially dismissed their appeal of case Whistleblower 21276-13W and 21277-13W v. CIR, Case Nos. 17-1119 and 1120 (D.C. Cir.), marking a big win for IRS whistleblowers. Below is a statement from the whistleblowers’ attorneys.
The law firms of Zerbe, Miller, Fingeret, Frank & Jadav, PC (ZMF); Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto (KKC) and Robert Amsel, Esq. are pleased to announce today a key victory for tax whistleblowers with the filing of a joint stipulation for dismissal of the government’s appeal in the cases of Whistleblower 21276-13W and 21277-13W v. CIR, Case Nos. 17-1119 and 1120 (D.C. Cir.). The case was scheduled for oral argument on April 9, 2018 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It had pitted the U.S. Department of Justice and IRS against two whistleblowers whose information has led to $54.131 million in criminal penalties and civil forfeitures awarded against a major Swiss bank. The DOJ and IRS were arguing that the tax whistleblower law did not apply to criminal tax cases that resulted in payments of fines and civil forfeitures.
WASHINGTON, D.C. | MARCH 29, 2018—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today will dismiss an appeal filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) challenging the right of whistleblowers to obtain a financial reward based on disclosing information that results in the criminal prosecution of tax evaders. The case concerned a major international financial institution that was sanctioned for illegally assisting U.S. citizens in evading taxes. The IRS had initially denied an award to the two whistleblowers. The whistleblowers challenged the denial in Tax Court and prevailed. However, the DOJ and IRS challenged this finding in the Court of Appeals. Today, at the request of DOJ, that appeal will be dismissed, and the two whistleblowers will become the first persons to obtain an IRS whistleblower reward based on a criminal tax prosecution.
January 19th, 2017, today, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to consider President-Elect Trump’s pick for the Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin. The National Whistleblower Center asked its supporters to insist that the Senators of the Finance Committee use the hearing to find out whether or not Mr. Mnuchin was committed to protecting whistleblowers who report to the IRS.
In a significant pro-whistleblower decision yesterday, the Tax Court in a decision 144 TC 15 (Whistleblower 21276-13W v. IRS) made it clear that the IRS couldn’t deny a whistleblower an award because they filed a request for an award after the IRS had collected the fines and penalties from the targeted business. The whistleblowers’ extensive cooperation with IRS and law enforcement agents was directly responsible for the IRS collecting a large monetary penalty from the targeted business. Shortly after the IRS successfully concluded its case against the targeted business the whistleblowers filed a claim for an award under the IRS whistleblower program citing their extensive assistance to the IRS during the investigation.
The lead counsel representing the whistleblower in Tax Court was National Whistleblower Center (NWC) advisor Dean Zerbe of ZFFJ law firm. NWC Executive Director Stephen M. Kohn and NWC General Counsel David K. Colapinto were also counsel for the whistleblowers. This is the first evidentiary trial for tax whistleblowers that has been held by the Tax Court.
UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld who assisted the U.S. in its successful prosecution of Swiss bank UBS AG for aiding U.S. citizens to commit tax evasion, has been asked to assist France with a similar investigation. Mr. Birkenfeld will travel to Paris to comply with a French subpoena requiring him to testify against UBS AG. French authorities have demanded that Birkenfeld provide testimony and “documentary evidence.”
Mr. Birkenfeld was a key part of the U.S. prosecution of UBS that resulted in the 2009 settlement, which included a deferred prosecution agreement. He had started cooperating with authorities in 2007, by detailing ways that the bank actively helped clients maintain undeclared accounts shielded by Switzerland’s bank secrecy laws. At the time of its settlement, UBS acknowledged helping Americans evade taxes. …
In an editorial published yesterday in Politico Magazine, Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley criticize the IRS whistleblower program. The editorial, “Will the IRS Ever Listen?” states that the backlog on cases is too long and that the IRS needs to better manage its relationships with whistleblowers. They point out that 799 whistleblower claims made prior to 2007 remain open.
The Senators made reference to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s August 2014 Policy statement, stating they hope his “message is just the beginning of real reforms in the way whistleblowers are treated.” But state that while there has been some success with the IRS whistleblower program that they routinely hear complaints from whistleblowers about how the IRS handles their cases.…
The National Whistleblower Center issued the following Action Alert today:
Action Alert: Urge Treasury Department to Withdraw Proposed Rule
The Department of Treasury is poised to approve a final rule that will have a devastating impact on the IRS Whistleblower Program. The Treasury Department, along with the IRS office of general counsel, have concocted a rule to exclude whistleblowers from coverage if the violation of law they report is criminally prosecuted. Tax fraud whistleblowers will only receive rewards for information that results in civil or administrative penalties. If a whistleblower has solid evidence of a major fraud that triggers a criminal prosecution, he or she will get nothing. The proposed regulation undermines Congress’s intent that whistleblowers who report tax fraud be protected and rewarded.
This proposed rule, which we have learned is on the verge of final approval, could not have come at a worse time. The IRS and the Justice Department are effectively using the threat of whistleblower disclosures to force international banks to plead guilty to tax fraud violations for illegally harboring non-disclosed offshore accounts. If the proposed rule is approved, the threat that international bankers will become whistleblowers will become toothless.