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Tax Preparer’s Obstruction Conviction Vacated


Salvatore Russo

Tax Preparer’s Obstruction Conviction Vacated

The Fifth Circuit vacated a tax preparer’s conviction for obstructing tax administration. The conviction was no longer valid in light of C.J. Marinello, SCt., 2018-1 ustc ¶50,192.

Marinello

Under Code Sec. 7212, it is a crime to corruptly or by force or threats obstruct the due administration of the Internal Revenue Code. In Marinello, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that a conviction for this crime requires that:

  • a relationship ( “nexus”) exists between the defendant’s conduct and a particular administrative proceeding; and
  • the proceeding was either pending when the defendant engaged in the conduct or reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.

A “particular administrative proceeding” includes an investigation, audit or other targeted administrative action. It does not include routine, day-to-day work carried out in the ordinary course by the IRS, such as the review of tax returns.

Obstruction Conviction

Here, a jury convicted the tax preparer on one count of obstructing the tax laws. One of the obstruction allegations was that the preparer had provided false testimony at a show cause hearing in federal court. This met the Marinello requirements, because the hearing was held to assess her compliance with an IRS tax records subpoena.

However, most of the other alleged obstruction did not satisfy Marinello, because it focused on the preparer paying her employees in cash and on failing to keep adequate records.

The court vacated the obstruction conviction, because the jury believed it could consider all of the preparer’s conduct as part of the obstruction count. The court did not know which of the allegations the jury had found to be proven by the government.

False Returns Conviction

The jury also convicted the preparer for preparing false returns. The preparer claimed the improper obstruction count tainted the false return counts. However, the court rejected this “spill-over prejudice” claim, and did not vacate the false returns conviction. The invalid obstruction count did not allow the jury to consider evidence that would not have been allowed at a trial focused on just the false return counts.

On remand from SCt. Unpublished opinion vacating and remanding, per curiam, an unpublished DC Tex. decision. Related decision at CA-5 2017-1 ustc ¶50,241.