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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:12 pm
St. Petersburg Tax Evasion Charges: Filing a False Return
Tax evasion is a serious crime that can lead to hefty fines and even prison time. Recently, several high-profile cases in St. Petersburg, Florida have highlighted how filing false tax returns can be part of elaborate tax evasion schemes.
In one case, a St. Petersburg man was sentenced to six years in federal prison for a multimillion-dollar tax fraud scheme. He filed false claims with the IRS to obtain over $2 million in fraudulent tax refunds, which he then used to purchase a waterfront home, luxury cars, jewelry, and more.
So how does filing a false return equate to tax evasion? And what defenses might someone accused of such crimes have?
How Filing a False Return Becomes Tax Evasion
Simply making a mistake on your taxes doesn’t necessarily constitute tax evasion. But willfully providing false information to reduce your tax liability does.
According to federal law, tax evasion involves an “affirmative act” to evade taxes that are owed. This includes:
- Filing a false return
- Failing to file a return
- Keeping double sets of books
- Hiding income
- Claiming false deductions
So filing a return that deliberately misreports income, overstates deductions, fails to disclose assets, or contains other intentional inaccuracies can be considered an attempt to evade paying owed taxes.
Common Ways False Returns Hide Income or Inflate Deductions
Some of the typical ways that people filing false returns try to trick the IRS include:
- Not reporting cash income
- Inflating business expenses
- Exaggerating charitable donations
- Claiming bogus tax credits
- Hiding offshore accounts
A recent case in St. Petersburg involved several of these tactics. The defendant allegedly failed to report over $2 million in income and claimed fake business losses to obtain fraudulent tax refunds.
Proving Tax Evasion vs. Negligence or Mistakes
For a false return to constitute tax evasion, the government must prove it was an intentional attempt to cheat on taxes, not just an honest mistake.
Factors that suggest willful evasion include:
- Repeated underreporting of income over several years
- Using complex schemes to hide assets or income
- Keeping double sets of books
- A defendant’s knowledge and experience – such as an accountant would know tax requirements
But simple math errors, overlooking forms, or misunderstanding tax code may point to negligence rather than deliberate evasion. The complexity of the US tax code can lead to inadvertent mistakes on many returns.
Penalties for Tax Evasion and Filing False Returns
Tax evasion and filing false returns can lead to either civil or criminal penalties, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Potential civil penalties from the IRS include:
- Fines equal to 75% of the unpaid tax
- Interest charges on unpaid taxes
- Payment of back taxes owed
Criminal penalties for tax evasion can include:
- Up to 5 years in prison
- Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for corporations
- Community service
In particularly egregious cases involving large amounts of unreported income or taxes owed, penalties can be much greater. Tax evasion of $10,000 or more in a single year can result in up to 20 years in prison.
Defenses Against Tax Evasion and False Return Charges
For someone criminally charged with tax evasion or filing false returns, possible defenses may include:
- Lack of intent – Arguing deficiencies were accidental, not willful attempts to evade taxes.
- Reliance on a tax professional – Demonstrating the defendant relied on an accountant or tax preparer who made errors.
- Unaware of reporting requirements – Showing the defendant was unaware of tax code requirements.
- Filing amended returns – Correcting false returns and paying back taxes owed before criminal charges are filed.
An experienced tax attorney can evaluate the available defenses and build the strongest case possible if charged with tax crimes.
Avoiding Serious Tax Evasion Charges
For taxpayers who may have made legitimate mistakes on their returns, voluntarily disclosing errors to the IRS through their Voluntary Disclosure Program can potentially avoid criminal prosecution. Amending past returns will likely still incur interest and civil fines for any taxes owed, but avoids higher criminal penalties.
Of course, the best way to steer clear of tax evasion charges is to report all income accurately, claim only legitimate deductions, and fully disclose all assets and foreign accounts every year.
The complexities of US tax law make inadvertent mistakes common on many returns. But purposefully filing false returns and trying to hide income from the IRS crosses the line into tax evasion. Understanding the serious penalties involved can help taxpayers avoid making this costly mistake.