by Brian Mahany
Attorneys are officers of the court. We take an oath to uphold the law. Sometimes some of us forget, however. Attorney John J. O’Brien will have 28 months to think about the lessons of crossing the line between court officer and criminal defendant. His conviction may result in him being disbarred.
According to Manhattan federal court records and statements made by U.S. Attorney Preet Bahara, O’Brien was a partner in a prominent Wall Street law firm. Prosecutors say he earned approximately $1.3 million per year between 2001 and 2008.
That kind of money would be enough for almost anyone. Apparently it was not enough for O’Brien, however. They say he failed to file tax returns and pay taxes during that time period. Ultimately, the government said he should have paid $2.5 million in taxes. Instead, he purchased a weekend home and diverted $3 million towards a rare book business.
O’Brien pleaded guilty last summer and was sentenced this month to 28 months in prison. That’s unusual in a misdemeanor case but judges often don’t like people who deliberately don’t pay their taxes. The U.S. Attorney, Preet Bahara, said after sentencing that, “As a partner at a prominent law firm, John O’Brien received millions of dollars for advising his clients about compliance with the law, while, at the same time, he was breaking it… O’Brien certainly knew about his legal obligation to pay taxes, like every other American, and now he will pay for his decision to do otherwise.”
In addition to spending 2 years in a federal prison, O’Brien lost his law partnership and the hefty income that came with it – during his last year working at the Wall Street firm he earned $2.3 million. He may well also lose his law license too. That means it will be difficult for him to pay the millions he must still pay the IRS.
If nothing else, it appears that O’Brien has plenty of reading material – his rare books – to keep him occupied during the next two years.
No one likes paying taxes. Very often people think they will skip filing or paying “just once” in the hopes of making up the missing taxes when “things get better.” Unfortunately, for most people accused of tax crimes, 1 year became 2 years became 3 years became an indictment.
In our experience, most criminal tax defendants never started out intending to defraud the IRS but it doesn’t take long before they find themselves in way over their heads. There is a way out, however.
The IRS maintains a “first contact” policy meaning that anyone coming forward before they are indicted or notified of a criminal investigation can usually avoid prosecution. If the IRS makes the first move, however, all bets are off.
If you haven’t filed or paid taxes, filed a false return or have unreported offshore accounts, contact us immediately. We can help you avoid criminal charges. Our tax lawyers have helped many people under investigation or under indictment. For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at (414) 704-6731 (direct) or by email at All inquiries are strictly confidential.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Tax Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine; San Francisco, California and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Legal and tax services available anywhere.