Industry: Tax Fraud
In United States v. Zukerman, No. 17-948 (2d Cir. Feb. 6, 2018) (ALK, RAK, RSP) (summary order), the appellant, Morris Zuckerman, challenged the substantive and procedural reasonableness of his sentence, which was imposed following his pleading guilty for tax evasion and obstruction of the IRS, see 26 U.S.C. §§ 7201, 7212(a). While Zukerman’s plea agreement contained a stipulated fine range of $25,000 to $250,000, the district court (Torres, J.) imposed a fine of $10 million. Given that tax fraud defendants are typically required to resolve their civil tax liabilities in parallel proceedings, it is unusual for such a large fine to be imposed in this type of case. After acknowledging that fine calculations are typically committed to the discretion of the sentencing judge, the Second Circuit held that Judge Torres’ comments at the sentencing hearing and in the written statement of reasons did not provide the panel with a sufficient basis to determine how she reached the $10 million fine amount. Rather than try to guess what considerations went into this calculation, the Court ordered a so-called “Jacobson remand”—wherein it remands “partial jurisdiction to the district court to supplement the record on a discrete factual or legal issue while retaining jurisdiction over the original appeal”—and directed the district court to “elaborate on its rationale for imposing a fine greater than those typically imposed in tax prosecutions.”
The line that separates lawful tax shelters from unlawful ones is notoriously hazy, particularly at the margins. There is little question, however, that a transaction that serves no meaningful business purpose other than to reduce one’s tax liability will be treated as an illegitimate tax shelter.