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Tax evasion: Effort to do right prompts 5-second probation

Some months ago we wrote about the case of wealthy heiress Mary Estelle Curran and how she had become a target of the Internal Revenue Service because of funds held in foreign bank accounts. It’s a story that we suspect a lot of our readers in the Washington, D.C., area found intriguing.

Curran pleaded guilty in January to tax evasion charges. She admitted that she had attempted to conceal up to $43 million in a foreign account she had inherited after her husband’s death. As part of her plea she agreed to pay the IRS half the value of the account. And last week a federal judge sentenced the 79-year-old widow to one year of probation. Seconds later, though, the judge ordered the punishment terminated and urged Curran to seek a pardon from President Obama.

Compare that to the case of a dedicated military doctor who pleaded guilty to similar charges back in December. He had inherited a Swiss bank account holding less than $1.5 million from his father in 2000. When he was sentenced last week, the judge gave the defendant six months of incarceration. He was also fined $100,000 and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of more than $215,000. Those amounts were on top of the more than $1 million he paid for back taxes and penalties.

Why such a difference in the outcomes? Legal analysts indicate that the key apparently was in the difference in how the two defendants reacted to the charges.

Prosecutors argued that the doctor knew about the account for years before he inherited it, never paid taxes on the funds, and kept the account secret until its existence was uncovered. They said because of that, prison was called for.

In Curran’s case, it was shown that she had tried to come clean with the IRS on her inherited account, but delayed action by her attorney resulted in her being tagged for action before she had had a chance to contact the government. Her attorney argued before sentencing that Curran had made a good-faith effort to correct the issues and had already suffered the maximum financial penalty possible.

The judge in Curran’s case called it an unfortunate case and reflected that by issuing the sentence of probation and then immediately ending it.   

Source: USA Today, “From 2 tax-evasion sentences, a lesson comes,” Kevin McCoy, April 25, 2013

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