Nobody likes paying taxes. But since most of us pay our taxes, we dislike those that don’t even more. There is always a small percentage of folks will try to outsmart the system by engaging in some form of tax evasion. Many get caught.
Believe it or not, most of the ones that get caught don’t go to prison. In fact, most are never criminally prosecuted. The IRS has a huge arsenal of civil remedies available to it. And even if every case was referred for prosecution, there simply aren’t enough judges and prosecutors to hear every case.
Where is this leading? It’s easy to fall behind on one’s taxes yet still avoid prison. Unless you have defrauded the government of millions, chances are good that the IRS probably isn’t going to criminally prosecute you. There are exceptions, of course. One is if you behave like William Messier.
The feds say that Messier earned hundreds of thousands of dollars renting space on large towers he owned to cell phone companies. Unfortunately, he had not filed a tax return since 1997.
Instead of sending the guys and girls with guns and badges (IRS Criminal Investigations Division) to interrogate Messier, the service followed its normal procedure and elected to send notices to him. Had Messier immediately made arrangements with the IRS he probably would never have been indicted.
How did Messier respond to the IRS requests? According to the U.S. Attorney for Maine, Messier reported wrote a fake money order to the Service. Think that is enough to peeve the IRS? There is more.
Prosecutors say that he also hired an “attorney” who claimed to be the “Interim Attorney General” of the “Maine Republic Free State.” Predictably, those arguments fell on deaf ears.
In an effort to impede the IRS’ tax evasion investigation, prosecutors say that Messier threatened witnesses and told them not to cooperate. According to his indictment, he also sent threatening letters to IRS agents. He threatened to sue his cell phone tower tenants if they honored IRS levy notices.
Messier and his attorney general now face felony conspiracy to defraud the IRS charges. If convicted on all counts, Messier faces 13 years in prison. His attorney faces 5 years.
The lessons here are several. First, if you are facing a tax evasion indictment, don’t hire a “wanna be” lawyer that claims he is the interim attorney general. Second, don’t pay your taxes with a fake check or money order. Third, don’t intimidate witnesses. Don’t harass or threaten IRS agents either. Finally, tax defier (tax protestor) challenges against the IRS never win.
The latter warrants more discussion. Those who the IRS calls tax defiers others call members of the tax freedom movement. Having known several of these folks, most are sincere in their beliefs. Read some of the tax freedom literature on the Internet and you will find some is complete gibberish while some theories appear plausible.
Assuming you find something that seems plausible. STOP. It isn’t how the author or some Internet guru interprets the law. It is what the courts say. I guarantee you, 99.99% of the theories have been advanced before and failed in court.
As former head of Maine’s state revenue department, I have met some of the tax freedom folks before. The hard corps adherents are willing to go to prison for their beliefs but most of the folks who follow their practices aren’t willing to go to prison and don’t fully understand the law and how courts interpret the law.
If you think there is any merit to what you read, speak to a good CPA or experienced tax lawyer. It is sometimes possible to go to court and defeat a tax evasion charge if you are sincere in your beliefs. (The IRS can still prevail on misdemeanor failure to pay and failure to file charges, which do not require the same criminal intent as well as collect any unpaid taxes.) Intimidate agents, threaten third parties or create fake money orders and you will assuredly “lose” the jury, however.
Already under investigation or indictment for tax evasion, talk to us. The author, Brian Mahany is an attorney and a former assistant attorney general – tax. He can be reached at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731.