Court of Appeals Sides with Lower Court Against Former Florida Congresswoman Found Guilty of Tax Fraud

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Court of Appeals Sides with Lower Court Against Former Florida Congresswoman Found Guilty of Tax Fraud

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Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the conviction of former Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown, who in May 2017 was found guilty on more than a dozen counts of tax and financial crimes, including tax obstruction and the filing of false returns. Appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan in December 2017, Brown was sentenced to five years in federal prison and ordered to “forfeit and pay restitution of $664,292.39,” including IRS restitution exceeding $62,000. Brown proceeded to appeal, or dispute, the district court’s findings, challenging her restitution order and underlying conviction by asserting that one of her jurors had been improperly removed from the trial. However, the Court of Appeals rejected Brown’s argument, defending the lower court’s actions in removing the juror and, ultimately, upholding its orders against Brown.

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Appeals Court Upholds Conviction, Penalties for Former Congresswoman Convicted of Tax Fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a series of four press releases on Brown’s case. The first, issued in July 2016, announces the indictment of the former congresswoman, along with former chief of staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons. The second, issued in May 2017, announces Brown’s conviction by federal jury on “18 counts of an indictment charging her with participating in a conspiracy involving a fraudulent education charity, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws and filing false tax returns.” The third, issued in December 2017, announces the former congresswoman’s sentencing to 60 months in prison, along with substantial restitution orders. The latest update on the case, released in January 2020, reveals an appellate court’s recent decision to side with the district court against Brown, who – unsuccessfully – appealed her conviction and restitution order.

In a criminal trial, all jurors must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict. If one or more of the jurors disagrees, and the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision (called a “hung jury”), the case ends in a mistrial and must be retried. One of jurors in Brown’s trial believed the congresswoman to be “not guilty on all counts,” which – under other circumstances – could have led to a hung jury and mistrial. Unfortunately for Brown, the lower court decided to remove this juror from the trial – a decision whose validity Brown challenged on appeal.

The appellate court sided with the district court against Brown, supporting the lower court’s decision to remove the juror from the proceedings. According to the DOJ, the juror was removed because “during deliberations, [he] had said that the Holy Spirit told him that Brown was not guilty on all counts,” at one point naming “My Father in Heaven” as his source of information. As the DOJ noted, the Court of Appeals reasoned that “a contrary holding would allow criminal defendants to be convicted based on a divine revelation divorced from the evidence, rather than the evidence presented at trial – a troubling result, to say the least.”

Though most of the charges against Brown were non-tax offenses, two of the offenses are pertinent to our readers: obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws, more commonly known as “tax obstruction,” which is defined and prosecuted under 26 U.S. Code § 7212(a); and making or subscribing false returns (i.e. filing false tax returns), which is defined and prosecuted under 26 U.S. Code § 7206(1). Both offenses are serious, though the latter carries greater criminal penalties. The maximum criminal fine for tax obstruction is $5,000, with a maximum prison sentence of three years. There is also a three-year maximum sentence for filing false returns, but substantially higher maximum criminal penalties: up to $100,000 for individuals, or $500,000 for corporations. Note that criminal fines are distinct from civil fraud penalties, IRS restitution, and other civil penalties, which can add significantly to the final amount owed.

IRS Tax Litigation + Fraud Defense Attorneys

Appealing a tax-related conviction or penalty is a complex and challenging process. If you intend to appeal a court order or dispute an IRS finding, it is vital to be represented by a competent and experienced tax litigation attorney. Legal representation is also crucial for taxpayers charged with tax crimes, such as filing false returns, tax obstruction, or tax evasion. The IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) division has a conviction rate of over 91%, highlighting the government’s efficacy in prosecuting alleged tax offenders.

Note: As long as a taxpayer that has willfully committed tax crimes self-reports the tax fraud (including a pattern of non-filed returns) through a domestic or offshore voluntary disclosure before the IRS has started an audit or criminal tax prosecution, the taxpayer can be successfully brought back into tax compliance and receive a nearly guaranteed pass on criminal tax prosecution and simultaneously receive a break on the civil penalties that would otherwise apply.  It is imperative that you hire an experienced and reputable tax defense attorney to take you through the voluntary disclosure process.  As uniquely qualified and extensively experienced Criminal Tax Defense Tax Attorneys, Kovel CPAs and EAs, our firm provides a one stop shop to efficiently achieve the optimal and predictable results.   See our Testimonials to see what our clients have to say about us!

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Whether you are disputing a tax-related court ruling, appealing the outcome of a tax audit, or fighting misdemeanor or felony tax charges, protect your legal rights by working with a seasoned attorney, like the IRS tax lawyers at the Tax Law Office of David W. Klasing. Contact us online immediately for a reduced-rate consultation, or call 24 hours at (800) 681-1295.

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