Gary Stern is the latest professional to become ensnared in the coils of the criminal justice system. The once prominent lawyer who represented NFL players, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals has been charged with tax fraud. Federal prosecutors allege that Stern organized, operated, and promoted elaborate and bogus tax schemes, primarily to help his wealthy clients evade federal income taxes. For as complicated a strategy as these tax schemes might have been, they can be reduced to something so simple that even a caveman could do it: claiming millions of dollars in tax credits.
Specifically, the charges relate to preparing fraudulent tax returns and impeding the operation of the IRS. A federal indictment filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago alleges that from 2006 to 2010, Gary J. Stern, “corruptly obstructed and impeded” the IRS by funneling renewable energy tax credits through multiple business entities so that his clients could claim nearly $5 million in improper credits.
The indictment against Gary J. Stern says that he, “aided and assisted in, procured, counseled, and advised the preparation and presentation to the IRS of at least 55 joint and individual Form 1040 tax returns for tax years 2006, 2007, and 2008, which falsely claimed FNS tax credits in the total amount of $4,898,076.” What a mouthful! But it doesn’t end there. Stern is also charged with “corruptly endeavoring” to obstruct or impede the Internal Revenue Service from collecting income tax, along with multiple counts of assisting in the preparation of false tax returns to the IRS.
As if things couldn’t get any worse for Stern, he is still facing civil litigation involving famous football players, like former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Owens for fraudulent tax schemes that engulfed these players as well.
To say that Gary Stern is in trouble would be like saying that “Moaning Myrtle,” the fictional character in Harry Potter, is a “little sensitive.” Indeed, if there is even a hint of truth to these allegations, the government’s case against Mr. Stern is airtight. For example, the government claims that Mr. Stern made these transfers even after receiving a memo from another attorney in his law firm advising him that these tax credits could not be legally used in this way.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the “smoking gun” in this case is likely to be the memo itself. And who will the government subpoena to come into court to authenticate it? None other than the attorney who drafted it and who then hit the “send” button on his email browser to send it to Mr. Stern. And there you have it. In one fell swoop, the government will have verified the authenticity of the memo and delivery of it to Mr. Stern quicker than a Death Eater can say, “Avada Kedavra” and cast the “Killing Curse” on his victim. While it’s hard to imagine anyone being unfamiliar with the “Killing Curse,” just in case you are, it is a flash of blinding green light that “illuminates every corner of the room” and causes instantaneous death.
This leads to an important point: in today’s digital age, often times the most damning piece of evidence in a white-collar case is not the testimony of a cooperating witness, but instead a pestilent email hastily written by the defendant that at the time, may have appeared utterly benign. Far from being innocent, an email penned by the accused himself that reveals knowledge of an illegal scheme has been responsible for the unplanned visit of many a white-collar defendant to “Club Fed.”
Suffice to say, such emails have come back to haunt their authors in the same way that the ghosts of Christmas past have come back to haunt Ebenezer Scrooge. Why? Very simply, they are the modern-day equivalent of a confession, which in the hierarchy of evidence, is considered the Holy Grail.
Despite the odds, Mr. Stern intends to mount a vigorous defense. His attorney, Chris Gair, insists that he is innocent: “Gary Stern is a thoughtful lawyer who didn’t do anything wrong here, and we’re going to prove that in court.”
As a criminal defense and tax lawyer, I regularly defend clients charged with the same crimes as Mr. Stern. It is important to remember that, under our Constitution, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In other words, merely because someone is indicted for a crime such as tax fraud, tax evasion, or some other federal tax crime, does not mean that they are guilty. As courts have recognized time and time again, an indictment is not evidence of guilt. It is merely a procedural step in the process, designed to give the defendant notice of the charges against him.
A defendant cannot be found guilty unless all twelve jurors unanimously find that the government has proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In order for the government to carry its burden, it must prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
As blunt as this may sound, the quality of your legal representation can mean the difference between guilt and innocence. Tax law is a specialized area of the law that is as foreign to most criminal defense lawyers as a smart phone is to an indigenous tribe in the Amazon. If you find yourself facing a federal tax prosecution, you need an attorney that focuses their practice on, and that has experience in, both federal tax and criminal law. You also need an experienced litigator willing to fight and put it all on the line for their clients. And you need an aggressive litigator who is not afraid of the big bad government tax man.
The point being is this: Be sure to speak to a criminal defense attorney who has a solid grounding in all major areas of federal taxation. You will need lawyers who are fully equipped to help anyone who has been charged with a federal tax crime or who is under investigation by the Criminal Investigations Division of the IRS. Committed to understanding the needs of each client and tailoring a litigation plan to meet those needs. Call them today.
Original Post By: Michael DeBlis
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