Ozark introduces us to Marty Byrde, a frugal Chicago-area financial advisor and family man who drives a 10-year-old Honda and resists moving his firm to flashy new downtown offices. (Prudent, right?) One night, he takes an emergency meeting with his partner, where we discover his realbusiness is laundering cash for a Mexican drug cartel. Then Marty learns his associates have stolen millions (spoiler alert: bad move) and watches the boss’s sicarios slaughter them and nonchalantly stuff their bodies in barrels.Continue reading →
Consumer surveys consistently show that CPAs are the most trusted financial advisors of all. But what happens in the rare instance when you can’t trust your CPA? Nothing good, that’s for sure!
Back in 2001, John Baldwin helped engineer a deal to sell Louisiana’s Delta Downs racetrack for a $74 million profit. Baldwin took a $10 million fee for his work, along with some hefty interest payments on a $17 million loan his company had extended to finance it.
But Baldwin didn’t want to share those hard-earned gains with the IRS. So he went to the “Big Four” global accounting firm of KPMG for ways to pay less tax. KPMG dug into their bag of tricks and pulled out a doozy — a “one-time fix” called SOS, or Short Options Strategy. Without getting too technical, here’s how this little sleight-of-hand worked.Continue reading →
Most of us like to eat, even if we choose to deny ourselves this pleasure from time to time. And those of us with an entrepreneurial bent often dream of opening a restaurant. Sometimes it’s a bustling cafe fronting a busy urban sidewalk. Sometimes it’s comfort food served on a rural byway. And when the dream works, it really is a dream. Just ask celebrity restaurateurs like Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, proprietor of Greenwich Village’s Waverly Inn, or Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, whose Mission Ranch eatery draws diners and fans to Carmel, California.
Unfortunately, opening a restaurant is one of those adventures that all too often ends in disaster. Sure, FEMA may monitor Waffle House closings as a measure of hurricane intensity. But restaurants are notoriously difficult businesses to run. CNBC reports that about 60% of new restaurants fail in the first year, and nearly 80% close before their fifth year, mostly due to being in the wrong location. So if you’re hoping to launch the next food empire, or just cash in on the next food craze (cupcake ATMs, anyone?) it behooves you to spend as carefully as you can — including serving the IRS as little in tax as possible.Continue reading →
Right now, all across America, thousands of talented youngsters are dreaming of careers in performing arts. Whether they aspire to be the next Meryl Streep, or Taylor Swift, or Lin-Manuel Miranda, they understand the odds of success are long. But they still dream that one day they’ll find themselves in the audience at the Oscars, the Grammys, or the Tonys, waiting with their hearts in their throats as a tuxedo-clad presenter opens an envelope and reads their name.
At the same time, thousands more Americans grow up dreaming of careers in law enforcement. These future Elliot Nesses aren’t looking for the red carpets or glamour of Hollywood. But there are awards waiting for the best of them, too. And this year, our friends at the IRS are basking in those bright lights.Continue reading →
On January 20, 2008, AMC debuted a promising new drama called Breaking Bad. The series chronicled the highs and lows of high-school chemistry teacher Walter White, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and put his knowledge to work opening a meth lab to secure his family’s financial future. Millions of viewers became addicted to White’s exploits as he plunged deeper and deeper into a life of crime, breathlessly watching him juggle relationships with his DEA-agent brother-in-law, arms dealers, cartel soldiers, and crooked strip-mall lawyer Saul Goodman. All fun to watch, sure . . . but there’s a reason the announcer always says, “Kids . . . don’t try this at home.”Continue reading →
Most public servants are as honest and dedicated as we could want them to be. But some find ways to use their positions for more “entrepreneurial” pursuits. That’s why the CI unit pursues public officials for offenses like bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and money laundering, too, not just tax fraud. Here are three stories of politicians who really should have known better:Continue reading →
The IRS publishes hundreds of reports every year, covering all sorts of topics. You’ll find routine statistical summaries, like the always-popular “Number of Individual Income Tax Returns, Income, Exemptions and Deductions, Tax, and Average Tax.” You’ll find page-turners worthy of a Tom Clancy thriller, like last summer’s “Actions Can Be Taken to Better Address Potential Noncompliance for Roth Individual Retirement Arrangement Conversions.” But the most entertaining report of all is the Criminal Investigations unit’s annual business report summarizing their work for the previous year.
On November 29, CI released their annual report for FY 2015. As is typical in government, budget cuts colored the story — the unit hired just 45 investigators over the last three years, and attrition has reduced staffing to its lowest levels since the 1970s. And, as usual, you’ve got to be a really bad guy to find yourself in CI’s crosshairs. For 2015, the unit initiated just 3,835 investigations, down from 4,297 in 2014. But if CI does take you on, they’ve usually got you dead to rights: the unit won 93.2% of the cases they prosecuted.Continue reading →
If you have kids and you celebrate Christmas, you’re probably familiar with the Elf on the Shelf — a storybook and accompanying doll that help encourage your little darlings to behave themselves before the holidays. The book tells wide-eyed children how Santa marshals an army of scout elves to sneak into their houses before Christmas, then fly back to the North Pole every night to rat out the stinkers. Every day the elves return find a new place to hide, which turns this whole monstrous Fourth Amendment violation into an adorable ongoing game of hide and seek.
Parents love how the elf enforces good behavior. (Mommy says it’s that or an extra glass of wine!) But not everyone is a fan. The Atlantic magazine mocks it as a “marketing juggernaut dressed up as a tradition” that bullies kids into thinking good behavior equals presents. The Washington Post condemns it as “just another nannycam in a nanny state obsessed with penal codes.” And a Canadian professor argues that the elf brainwashes kids into accepting the surveillance state: “if you grow up thinking it’s cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa, well, then it’s cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government.”Continue reading →
The Mafia. The Mob. La Cosa Nostra. Call it what you will, this “certain Italian-American subculture” has a long and storied history. Mobsters like Al Capone, Henry Hill, and John Gotti have become folk heroes of a certain sociopathic sort. Fictional mobsters make special guest appearances alongside pop culture icons — witness The Simpsons’ “Fat Tony” D’Amico, crime boss of Springfield.
Organized crime also has a long history of tangling with tax authorities. Try as they might, Elliot Ness and his fellow “Untouchables” couldn’t jail Al Capone for bootlegging, bribery, or the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It took IRS agent Frank Wilson three years of dogged investigation to finally put Capone behind bars for the pedestrian offense of failing to pay his taxes. Even Tony Soprano knew enough to report a salary from his waste management business to keep the IRS off his back.Continue reading →