Large 419 plan Millennium files for Bankruptcy
By Lance Wallach
Recent court cases and other developments have highlighted serious problems in plans popularly known as Benistar, issued by Nova Benefit Plans of Simsbury, Connecticut. Recently unsealed IRS criminal case information now raises concerns with other plans as well. If you have any type plan issued by NOVA Benefit Plans, U.S. Benefits Group, Benefit Plan Advisors, Grist Mill trusts, Rex Insurance Service or Benistar, get help at once. You may be subject to an audit or in some cases, criminal prosecution.
On November 17th, 59 pages of search warrant materials were unsealed in the Nova Benefit Plans litigation currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. According to these documents, the IRS believes that Nova is involved in a significant criminal conspiracy involving the crimes of Conspiracy to Impede the IRS and Assisting in the Preparation of False Income Tax Returns.
Earlier this year, 70 armed IRS Criminal Division special agents raided the offices of Nova Benefit Plans in Connecticut. The IRS has taken other recent criminal enforcement actions in other locations including Nebraska and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The IRS has told the court that it believes Nova is promoting abusive "Section 419" welfare benefit plans.
The IRS claims that a cooperating witness and several undercover agents "penetrated" Nova to ascertain its internal operations. They say Nova helped its clients violate tax laws by claiming the most minor injuries as permanent disabilities to qualify for special tax treatment. In other words, they would assist clients in claiming that a minor scrape was a disabling and disfiguring permanent injury.
The IRS also claims that Nova assisted clients in backdating documents filed with the IRS.
How does the phony welfare benefit plan scam work? A taxpayer can contribute money tax free to the plan on behalf of the beneficiary. At a later date, and with the assistance of Nova, the beneficiary can claim the money (again tax free) because of a disability. According to the IRS, Nova's plan was a scam because Nova helped taxpayers claim false disabilities. The Internal Revenue Code says disability payments are tax free if there is a permanent loss of a bodily part or function. A small scrape is a far cry from the loss of an eye.
In one recorded conversation, a representative of Nova said, "We've never denied a claim... I recently, I don't want to say the client's name, but he went through a minor surgery, had a little--had a mole removed off his elbow I think and left a little scar the size of a pencil eraser, and, you know, that--that qualified."
When discussing the "independent plan trustee" that must approve the claims, the Nova representative said, "I'm gonna put this very simply for you, we control the trustee, okay, and I don't mean that in a bad way. He's independent but he's part of the family and we control the stuff that happens, we have ways to make stuff happen...It's best for us to pay out as
much claims so when it times for us to fight this in tax court, we can play and sing the welfare benefit song."
Nova is not alone in the scam. According to the IRS affidavit, Nova and its principals have also done business as U.S. Benefits Group, Benefit Plan Advisers, Grist Mill trusts, Rex Insurance Service and Benistar.
By Lance Wallach
The IRS is cracking down on what it considers to be abusive tax shelters. Many of them are being marketed to small business owners by insurance professionals, financial planners and even accountants and attorneys. I speak at numerous conventions, for both business owners and accountants. And after I speak, I am always approached by many people who have questions about tax reduction plans that they have heard about. Below are the most common 419 tax reduction insurance plans.
These come in various versions, and most of them have or will get the participant audited and the salesman sued. They purportedly allow the business owner to make a large tax-deductible contribution, and some or all of the contribution pays for a life insurance product. The IRS has been disallowing most versions of these plans for years, yet they continue to be sold. After everyone gets into trouble and the insurance agents get sued, the promoters of the abusive versions sometimes change the name of their company and call the plan something else. The insurance companies whose policies are sold are legitimate companies. What usually is not legitimate is the way that most of the plans are operated. There can also be a $200,000 IRS fine facing the insurance agent who sold the plan if Form 8918 has not been properly filed. I've reviewed hundreds of these forms for agents and have yet to see one that was filled out correctly.
When the IRS audits a participant in one of these plans, the tax deductions are lost. There is also the interest and large penalties to consider. The business owner can also be facing a $200,000-a-year fine if he did not properly file Form 8886. Most of these forms have been filled out improperly. In my talks with the IRS, I was told that the IRS considers not filling out Form 8886 properly almost the same as not filing at all.
412(i) retirement plans
The IRS has been auditing participants in these types of retirement plans. While there is generally nothing wrong with many of the newer plans, the IRS considered most of the older abusive plans. Forms 8918 and 8886 are also required for abusive 412(i) plans.
I have been an expert witness in a lot of these 419 and 412(i) lawsuits and I have not lost one of them. If you sold one or more of these plans, get someone who really knows what they are doing to help you immediately. Many advisors will take your money and claim to be able to help you. Make sure they have experience helping agents that have sold these types of plans. Don't let them learn on the job, with your career and money at stake.
Do not wait for IRS to come and get you, or for your client to sue you. Time is of the essence. Most insurance professionals need help to correct their improperly completed Form 8918 or to fill it out properly in the first place. If you have not previously filled out the form it is late, and therefore you should immediately seek assistance. There are plenty of legitimate tax reduction insurance plans out there. Just make sure that you know the history of the people with whom you conduct business.
Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Be careful.
IRS Audits 419, 412i, Captive Insurance Plans With Life Insurance, and Section 79 Scams
By Lance Wallach
The IRS started auditing 419 plans in the ‘90s, and then continued going after 412i and other plans that they considered abusive, listed, or reportable transactions, or substantially similar to such transactions.
In a recent Tax Court Case, Curcio v. Commissioner (TC Memo 2010-115), the Tax Court ruled that an investment in an employee welfare benefit plan marketed under the name “Benistar” was a listed transaction in that the transaction in question was substantially similar to the transaction described in IRS Notice 95-34. A subsequent case, McGehee Family Clinic, largely followed Curcio, though it was technically decided on other grounds. The parties stipulated to be bound by Curcio on the issue of whether the amounts paid by McGehee in connection with the Benistar 419 Plan and Trust were deductible. Curcio did not appear to have been decided yet at the time McGehee was argued. The McGehee opinion (Case No. 10-102) (United States Tax Court, September 15, 2010) does contain an exhaustive analysis and discussion of virtually all of the relevant issues. Click here to read more.
Should you File, and then Opt Out?
By Lance Wallach
Announced February 8, 2011, the IRS 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) program is a welcome but conditional amnesty allowing taxpayers with foreign accounts to come clean and get into compliance with the IRS. The program runs through Sept. 9, 2011.
There’s been discussion of “opting out” of the program to take your chances in audit, but it’s a topic fraught with danger. Now, however, there is guidance about opting out of the program that makes much of it transparent. Because of this late date it is recommended that you properly file FBARs and the 90-day request for amnesty extension. This is the first important step. If the forms are not done properly, you will have extensive problems and will not have to think about opting out. If your forms are properly done and filed, then your situation should be discussed with someone who is experienced in these matters.
Under the OVDI, taxpayers are subject to a penalty of 25 percent of the highest aggregate account balance on their undisclosed account(s) between 2003 and 2010. If the value was less than $75,000 at all times during those years, the penalty is only 12.5 percent.
These account balance penalties are in lieu of all other penalties that may apply, including FBAR and offshore-related information return penalties. Plus, participants are required to pay taxes and interest on any monies (such as interest income on foreign accounts) they previously failed to report. Finally, they must pay an accuracy-related penalty equal to 20 percent of the underpayment of tax, plus interest.
Opting out of the program can make sense for some, though it involves taking your chances with an IRS examination. Someone should represent you with extensive experience in this. We always suggest they should at least be a CPA with years of experience in international tax. It’s even better if you use one that was with the international tax division of the IRS for a number of years. The IRS has published a separate guide detailing the rules and procedures for opting out.
Here are some of the rules:
1. IRS Summary. The IRS employee who has been handling your case summarizes it, agreeing or disagreeing with your view of penalties, and listing how extensive an audit he or she recommends.
2. Program Status Report. Before you can opt out, the IRS sends a letter reporting on the status of your disclosure and what you still must submit. If you’ve given enough data, the IRS will calculate what you would owe under the OVDI. You should provide any missing items within 30 days.
3. Taxpayer Submission. Within 20 days, the taxpayer opts out in writing and makes a written case what penalties should apply and why.
4. Central Committee. A Committee of IRS Managers reviews the summary and decides how extensive an audit to conduct. The IRS says “the taxpayer is not to be punished (or rewarded) for opting out.” The Committee also decides whether to assign your case for a normal civil audit or to assign it for a criminal exam.
5. Written Warning. The IRS sends another letter explaining that opting out must be in writing and is irrevocable. You have 20 days thereafter to opt out in writing.
6. Interview? Some audits will include taxpayer interviews.
Bottom Line? The “opt out” procedure is helpful but still a bit daunting. If you are considering it, make sure you get some solid advice from an experienced person who, in my opinion, should have worked for the IRS and is a CPA about the nature of your case. This is just one of the many options that should be discussed with your advisor. There are many other strategies that you may want to utilize. Your advisor should be aware of all your options, and should explain them. If not, consider engaging someone else. Remember, the penalties can be very large, especially if your advisor is not skilled at this. There is even the potential for criminal prosecution. See taxadvisorexpert.com for the latest information in this area or to contact one of our professionals today.
Delaware Massage Center Operator Sentenced for Tax Fraud
On December 6, 2010, in Wilmington, Del., Anne Marie Connor, of Bethany Beach, was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $117,446 in restitution to the United States. According to court documents and evidence stated at trial, Connor was the owner and operator of Bethany Massage and Healing Arts Center, located in Bethany Beach, from the 1990s through 2009. Between 1993 and 2003, she was the co-owner and operator of Wholesome Habits Health Food Store. Over a 6-year period beginning in 1998, Connor used sham “trusts” to hide income from the IRS. Under the scheme, Connor installed the “trusts” as the named members of the limited liability companies through which she operated her businesses. Connor directed all income from the business into the “trust” bank accounts. She also placed the deed to her Bethany residence into one of the “trusts.” Connor retained complete control over and used the income from her businesses and her residence throughout the five-year period charged in the indictment. Between 2000 and 2004, Connor earned over $527,000 in income on which she evaded over $117,000 in federal income taxes.
How many risk retention groups and purchasing groups are there?
At the end of 2003, there were 141 risk retention groups and 670 purchasing groups operating in the United States, according to the Risk Retention Reporter.
How much premium do risk retention groups and purchasing groups generate?
According to surveys conducted by the Risk Retention Reporter, RRG annual premium has increased from $250.2M in 1988 to an estimated $1.725.5M in 2003. PG annual gross premium is estimated to top the $3 billion mark.
Who keeps track of risk retention groups and purchasing groups?
The Risk Retention Reporter has been monitoring the formation of risk retention groups (RRGs) and purchasing groups (PGs) since 1987 with the cooperation of state insurance departments. Before offering insurance coverage to state residents, RRGs and PGs must register with state insurance departments in compliance with the Liability Risk Retention Act and state laws.
by Lance Wallach
How to Avoid IRS Fines for You and Your Clients
Beware: The IRS is cracking down on small-business owners who participate in tax-reduction insurance plans sold by insurance agents, including defined benefit retirement plans, IRAs, and even 401(k) plans with life insurance. In these cases, the business owner is motivated by a large tax deduction; the insurance agent is motivated by a substantial commission.
A few years ago, I testified as an expert witness in a case in which a physician was in an abusive 401(k) plan with life insurance. It had a so-called “springing cash value policy” in it. The IRS calls plans with these types of policies “listed transactions.” The judge called the insurance agent “a crook.”If your client was currently is in a 412(i), 419, captive insurance, or Section 79 plan, they may be in big trouble. Accountants who signed a tax return for a client in one of these plans may be what the IRS calls a “material advisor” and subject to a maximum $200,000 fine.Read more here!
419, 412i, Captive Insurance and section 79 plans continue to get large IRS fines.
By Lance Wallach
Life insurance agents recently have started pushing the newest variety of high ticket items. After the IRS has almost put 419 plans out of business and severely curtailed abusive 412i plans they needed another way to sell large commission life insurance policies. Many of the promoters of the 419 and 412i plans are now promoting section 79 and captive insurance plans. They claim that these plans allow businesses to tax deduct life insurance. These promoters as in the past claim, that most of the benefits would be for the business owners. I have been an expert witness in many cases against these abusive plans and my side has never lost a case.Recently my office has been receiving over fifty calls per month from people that are being threatened with large IRS fines. Most of these people (including CPAs) do not understand why this is happening. These fines are primarily the result of greed. Insurance company, insurance agent, plan promoter and even IRS greed. Insurance companies are always looking for ways to sell large amounts of life insurance. Taxpayers are constantly looking for larger tax deductions. Insurance agents want to earn large life insurance commissions. The IRS has started additional enforcement action against taxpayers and accountants. Read more here
FBAR Offshore Bank Accounts and Foreign Income Attacked by IRS
By: Lance Wallach
You may want to think about participation in the IRS’ offshore tax amnesty program (called the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative). Do you want to play audit roulette with the IRS? Some clients think they are too small to be prosecuted. They are wrong.
To the average businessperson, only the guys with tens of millions secretly stashed in Swiss bank accounts get prosecuted. Don't tell that to Michael Schiavo. He was just prosecuted for hiding money in a Swiss account back in 2003. How much money does the IRS say he hid? A whopping $90,000. That’s it.
But wait, there is more to the story. Schiavo attempted to do a quiet disclosure during the 2009 amnesty but instead of filling out the amnesty paperwork, he simply trusted that by coming forward voluntarily he could avoid criminal prosecution. He was wrong on all counts. Nothing is too small for the IRS, and nothing is too old.
“So, to save a whopping $40,624 in taxes, this guy risked a felony conviction and prison time, not to mention steep penalties that could very easily eat up the entire $90,000, and also his criminal and civil defense costs.
The smart taxpayers are the ones coming forward and not having to look over their shoulders for the next 10 years.
Time is running out. The tax amnesty runs through August but it takes at least days to jump through all the hoops. We will also fight hard to reduce the penalties down even more. Remember, the IRS can go as low as 5%. Don’t want this to happen to you? Visit www.taxadvisorexpert.com today!
By Lance Wallach
Taxpayers who previously adopted 419, 412i, captive insurance or Section 79 plans are in big trouble. In recent years, the IRS has identified many of these arrangements as abusive devices to funnel tax deductible dollars to shareholders and classified these arrangements as “listed transactions.” These plans were sold by insurance agents, financial planners, accountants and attorneys seeking large life insurance commissions. In general, taxpayers who engage in a “listed transaction” must report such transaction to the IRS on Form 8886 every year that they “participate” in the transaction, and the taxpayer does not necessarily have to make a contribution or claim a tax deduction to be deemed to participate. Section 6707A of the Code imposes severe penalties ($200,000 for a business and $100,000 for an individual) for failure to file Form 8886 with respect to a listed transaction. But a taxpayer can also be in trouble if they file incorrectly. I have received numerous phone calls from business owners who filed and still got fined. Not only does
the taxpayer have to file Form 8886, but it has to be prepared correctly. I only know of two people in the United States who have filed these forms properly for clients. They told me that the form was prepared after hundreds of hours of research and over fifty phones calls to various IRS personnel. The filing instructions for Form 8886 presume a timely filing. Most people file late and follow the directions for currently preparing the forms. Then the IRS fines the business owner. The tax court does not have jurisdiction to abate or lower such penalties imposed by the IRS.
Many business owners adopted 412i, 419, captive insurance and Section 79 plans based upon representations provided by insurance professionals that the plans were legitimate plans and
they were not informed that they were engaging in a listed transaction. Upon audit, these taxpayers were shocked when the IRS asserted penalties under Section 6707A of the Code in the hundreds
of thousands of dollars. Numerous complaints from these taxpayers caused Congress to impose a moratorium on assessment of Section 6707A penalties.
The moratorium on IRS fines expired on June 1, 2010. The IRS immediately started sending out notices proposing the imposition of Section 6707A penalties along with requests for lengthy extensions of the Statute of Limitations for the purpose of assessing tax. Many of these taxpayers stopped taking deductions for contributions to these plans years ago, and are confused and upset by the IRS’s inquiry, especially when the taxpayer had previously reached a monetary settlement with the IRS regarding the deductions
taken in prior years. Logic and common sense dictate that a penalty should not apply if the taxpayer no longer benefits from the arrangement.
Treas. Reg. Sec. 1.6011-4(c)(3)(i) provides that a taxpayer has participated in a listed transaction if the taxpayer’s tax return reflects tax consequences or a tax strategy described in the published guidance identifying the transaction as a listed transaction or a transaction that is the same or substantially
similar to a listed transaction. Clearly, the primary benefit in the participation of these plans is the large tax deduction generated by such participation. It follows that taxpayers who no longer enjoy the benefit of those large deductions are no longer “participating” in the listed transaction.
But that is not the end of the story. Many taxpayers who are no longer taking current tax deductions for these plans continue to enjoy the benefit of previous tax deductions by continuing the deferral of income from contributions and deductions taken in prior years. While the regulations do not expand on what constitutes “reflecting the tax consequences of the strategy,” it could be argued that continued benefit from a tax deferral for a previous tax deduction is within the contemplation of a “tax consequence” of the plan strategy. Also, many taxpayers who no longer make contributions or claim tax deductions continue to pay administrative fees. Sometimes, money is taken from the plan to pay premiums to keep life insurance policies in force. In these ways, it could be argued that these taxpayers are still “contributing,” and thus still must file Form 8886.
It is clear that the extent to which a taxpayer benefits from the transaction depends on the purpose of a particular transaction as described in the published guidance that caused such transaction to be a listed transaction. Revenue Ruling 2004-20, which classifies 419(e) transactions, appears to be concerned with the employer’s contribution/deduction amount rather than the continued deferral of the income in previous years. This language may provide the taxpayer with a solid argument in the event of an audit.
Section 79, Captive Insurance, 419,412i Plans
Don't go to Arbitration Sue
Thomas, Francis, Edward, and Dolores Ehlen1("the Ehlens") are employees of Ehlen Floor Covering, Inc. ("Ehlen Floor"). In 2002, Ehlen Floor created a 412(I) employee benefit pension plan, the Ehlen Floor Coverings Retirement Plan ("the Plan"), with the help of advisors and administrators. IPS, a corporation specializing in pension plan design and administration for small businesses, took over as the Plan administrator at the start of 2003. As part of the commencement of IPS's services, Edward Ehlen, in his capacity as president of Ehlen Floor, signed an Arbitration Addendum ("AA") attached to an Administrative Services Agreement ("the Agreement") between IPS and Ehlen Floor. The AA called for arbitration of "any claim arising out of the rendition or lack of rendition of services under [the] [A]greement." The Agreement provided a list of available services that IPS could provide, such as performing annual reviews of the Plan, making amendments, and preparing annual report forms. The Agreement also stated that Ehlen Floor would indicate in Section VI of the Agreement which of the available services it desired for IPS to actually perform. There is no Section VI in the Agreement, nor is there any testimony or evidence that plaintiffs ever viewed a Section VI of the Agreement.
Shortly after IPS stepped in as administrator of the Plan, it became aware that the Plan was not in compliance with several Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") rules and regulations. IPS contends that it drafted an amendment to correct these flaws, but the amendment was never officially adopted. In 2004, the IRS promulgated new rules explaining that it would consider 412(i) plans with beneficiary payout limitations to be listed transactions2, possibly subject to serious penalties. The rule required any plans that could be considered listed transactions to file Form 8886 to avoid potential penalties. IPS drafted another amendment to the Plan after determining that the Plan would likely be classified as a listed transaction under the new rules. Ehlen Floor was not informed about the pre-rule tax problems, the existence of the new rule, the additional filing requirements that the new rule imposed, or the drafting of the new amendment. The IRS instigated an audit on March 6, 2006, found the Plan to be non-compliant, and ultimately assessed significant penalties against Ehlen Floor.
In August 2007, plaintiffs filed a complaint in state court against a number of parties involved with the creation and initial administration of the Plan, asserting claims of negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, breaches of fiduciary duties, and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The case was removed to federal court on the basis of preemption under ERISA. In May 2009, as requested by the court, plaintiffs recast their complaints as federal matters in their Second Amended Complaint, but plaintiffs contested the removal and argued against federal jurisdiction. IPS was added as a defendant in the Second Amended Complaint. IPS then moved to compel arbitration of the dispute, claiming that the terms of the AA govern the matter. The district court denied the motion. IPS appeals; plaintiffs cross-appeal to challenge the existence of federal jurisdiction.
Innovative Pension Strategies, Inc. ("IPS") appeals the district court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration and stay plaintiffs' claims against it. Plaintiffs cross-appeal, disputing the preemption of their claims under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and alleging a lack of federal jurisdiction. We find that jurisdiction is proper and affirm the district court's denial of IPS's motion to compel arbitration.
We therefore affirm the district court's denial of IPS's motion to compel arbitration and to stay plaintiffs' claims against it.
November 2010 Newsletter
by Lance Wallach
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