United States Tax Court Decision for the Week – You be the Judge

A recent Tax Court decision was reported that may be of interest to individuals potentially dealing with tax litigation. J. Frank Best, Certified Public Accountant and United States Tax Court Litigator works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.

Court Calls Taxpayer’s Arguments “Heavy on Chutzpah”; Duty of Consistency Prevents Additional Deductions-CIVIL FRAUD

The Tax Court held that a restaurant owner who underreported his employees’ wages for years that were outside of the three-year assessment period could not later amend his returns to increase the amount of wages he paid in order to claim additional deductions. The duty of consistency prevented him from taking a contradictory position after the statute of limitations had run in order to change a previous representation to the detriment of the IRS. Musa v. Comm’r, 2017 PTC 200 (7th Cir. 2017).

Background

Alaa Musa owns and operates a restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For the years 2006 to 2010, the IRS determined that Musa underreported his income taxes by more than $500,000 and made numerous other misrepresentations on his tax returns. Musa employed his family members and did not report their wages to the company he hired to assist with payroll. The payroll company’s services included withholding the required taxes from employees’ paychecks, issuing Forms W-2 to the employees and the IRS, and filing Musa’s quarterly employment tax returns. Between 2006 and 2008, Musa did not include any of his family members’ earnings when he reported his employees’ information to the payroll company. For 2009 and 2010, he included only two family members’ wages. He also underreported the restaurant’s revenues on his individual tax returns by giving inaccurate information to his accountant.

In 2009, the IRS audited Musa starting with his 2007 return, then expanded the audit to include his returns from 2006 to 2008. The IRS reviewed the bank statements for Musa and the restaurant and found that the amount of credit card deposits in the restaurant’s account exceeded what Musa had reported on his returns. The IRS decided to pursue Musa for civil tax fraud. While under audit, Musa hired a new accountant to prepare his 2009 and 2010 returns and to file amended employment tax returns for 2006 to 2008. He made these corrections, however, only after the statute of limitations had run on the IRS’s ability to collect the correct amounts of employment taxes that Musa’s amended returns admitted were due.

In 2012, the IRS sent Musa a notice of income tax deficiency for 2006 to 2010. Musa challenged the notice in the Tax Court. In 2013, Musa responded to a discovery request by providing a list of employees who he claimed had been paid additional wages. Musa claimed he was entitled to additional deductions for these wages in calculating his income tax liabilities.

The IRS argued that Musa’s duty of consistency prevented him from claiming new expense deductions on his income tax returns for wages paid between 2006 and 2009 because the IRS had relied on representations made by Musa in his original reports of employee wages in the restaurant’s quarterly tax returns and because the three-year period under Code Sec. 6501 for assessing employment taxes on those wages had expired. The Tax Court ruled in the IRS’s favor and determined that Musa had understated his income, failed to keep adequate records, concealed income, failed to file Forms W-2 and 1099-MISC for all employees, filed false documents, and failed to make estimated tax payments. The Tax Court found him liable for over $500,000 in income tax for 2006 to 2010, and over $380,000 in fraud penalties.

Analysis

The duty of consistency is an equitable tax doctrine which prevents a party from prevailing in a court proceeding by taking one position and then taking a contradictory position in a later case. It applies when there has been a representation by the taxpayer on which the IRS has relied followed by an attempt after the statute of limitations has run to change the previous representation or to recharacterize the situation in a way that harms the IRS.

Musa appealed to the Seventh Circuit. On appeal, Musa conceded that he had filed fraudulent income and employment tax returns but said the Tax Court had erred in its ruling on the duty of consistency. Calling Musa’s arguments “heavy on chutzpah but light on reasoning or any sense of basic fairness,” the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court.

The Seventh Circuit agreed with the IRS that Musa violated the duty of consistency. First, Musa made representations on his employment tax filings for 2006 to 2009 that the restaurant paid its employees certain sums in non-tip wages. Then, in 2013, Musa amended his filings to add wages that he had paid to his employees but failed to report for those same years. The court found that the IRS had relied on Musa’s original representations because it assessed employment taxes based on the original filings.

Musa argued that the IRS did not rely on the employment returns because it should have known that the returns were inaccurate. Musa claimed that the IRS either had all the facts available to it or had the opportunity to gain such knowledge before the limitations period expired, so the IRS did not “rely” on Musa’s false representations. In other words, Musa argued, after the IRS discovered his income tax fraud and he submitted amended income tax returns, the IRS should have induced from the amended income tax returns that the restaurant’s quarterly employment tax returns had also been incorrect.

The Seventh Circuit found there was no merit to Musa’s claim that the IRS lost its ability to rely on Musa’s employment tax returns because Musa amended his income tax returns. The court reasoned that the tax system is based on self-reporting and the IRS must be able to rely on truthful reporting for the system to function. In the court’s view, the IRS was permitted to take at face value the representations on Musa’s original employment tax returns and the duty of consistency prevented Musa from claiming the additional deductions which Musa tried to use to offset the consequences of his own fraud.

 

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