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Individual Tax

Conviction Affirmed: Evidence Showed Willful Evasion During Limitations Period

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

The Sixth Circuit affirmed James Pieron Jr.’s 2019 tax evasion conviction, finding that the district court didn’t err when it failed to instruct the jury on the applicable limitations period for the offense.

Facts.

Pieron, a U.S. citizen, lived in Switzerland for about 10 years but didn’t file tax returns reporting his Swiss income or reporting his foreign accounts. For 2008 and 2009 he hired an accounting firm to prepare his U.S. returns. These returns self-reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liability, which Pieron didn’t pay. In addition, Pieron amended these returns several times, in the end claiming he didn’t owe any U.S. tax at all.

Indictment and trial.

In 2018, Pieron was indicted on charges of willfully attempting to “evade and defeat the payment of income taxes due and owing” to the U.S. by committing affirmative acts of evasion. At trial, the government attorneys presented extensive evidence that, while his tax liabilities remained unpaid, Pieron moved millions of dollars from his personal accounts in Switzerland to companies he wholly controlled. He then used the money to pay for expensive vehicles and luxury items.

A jury found Pieron guilty of willfully attempting to evade his 2008 and 2009 income taxes; he was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Appeals court affirms conviction.

On appeal, Pieron argued that the district court should have instructed the jury that it could convict him only if it found that he committed an evasive act during the limitations period—that is, after January 9, 2012. The appeals court found that the government’s evidence included two Forms 433-F, Collection Information Statement, that Pieron had submitted to the IRS in 2012 and 2014. Those forms were patently misleading, and Pieron made little effort to persuade the jury otherwise at the trial.

The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that the government also emphasized several instances of evasive conduct before January 9, 2012, but found there was no reason to think the jury might have overlooked the 2012 and 2014 433-F forms or found them to be nonevasive. Moreover, in the context of the full trial record, the jury had every reason to believe Pieron committed tax evasion. Thus, the district court’s failure to give Pieron’s proposed instruction didn’t affect or “substantially sway” the verdict, the appeals court concluded.

For a description of criminal tax evasion and how it’s adjudicated, see Checkpoint’s Federal Tax Coordinator ¶V-4101.

 

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