A Madison, Wisconsin motivational speaker was sentenced to a year in federal prison after being convicted of three counts of failure to file a federal income tax return. Eric Plantenberg, age 42, founded several personal development companies including Personal Freedom Development and Freedom Professional Services. For the next 12 months, however, Plantenberg isn’t likely to enjoy much “personal freedom.”
Originally charged with three counts of tax evasion and three counts of failure to file tax returns, prosecutors say that Plantenberg concealed his income by using a nominee account at Charles Schwab and by laundering money through an entity called the Church of Compassionate Services. They say that he failed to file returns that would have shown that he earned $1.3 million.
Ultimately, the government dropped the more serious felony charges and allowed Plantenberg to plead to three lesser counts of failure to file income tax returns. Prior to sentencing, Plantenberg’s lawyers filed a 201 page sentencing memorandum consisting of many 2 and 3 page letters of support. They argued that as a motivational speaker, he had helped many people throughout the United States.
At sentencing, Plantenberg apologized for his crime and prosecutors say that he has subsequently cooperated and filed the missing tax returns.
Plantenberg had hoped for a probationary sentence. U.S. District Court Lynn Adelman didn’t buy those arguments, however . He sentenced Plantenberg to 1 year in prison followed by an additional period of supervised release. At sentencing, Adelman claimed that Plantenberg was motivated by greed.
According to Plantenberg’s self help websites, his programs are designed to “train your brain to focus, establish positive patterns [and] visualize success. He also helped run several “abundant living” retreats and seminars.
It is quite ironic that a man dedicated to personal freedom and abundant living would lose his freedom because of apparent excessive “abundant living.”
The IRS takes tax evasion seriously. Using nominee accounts or running money through a phony charity or church are all considered affirmative acts of tax evasion. It is a misdemeanor to willfully fail to file a return or report all of one’s income. If coupled with deliberate actions to conceal income or conceal assets so as to avoid payment of taxes, the crime becomes a felony.
Plantenberg was fortunate that he wasn’t convicted of tax evasion. Those charges carry a maximum 5 years in prison and more serious fines.
About the author. Brian Mahany is a tax lawyer practicing nationally. Previously he served as an agent, assistant attorney general – tax, social counsel to the Maine Senate on Tax Policy and as Maine’s state revenue commissioner.
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