Rule 345 Provides a New Shield for IRS Whistleblowers

A U.S. Tax Court judge on Tuesday allowed three whistleblowers to hide their identities in court for reasons that ranged from death threats to a fear of professional ostracism.

The rulings by Judge Diane L. Kroupa appear to be the the first decisions publicly reached under the Tax Court’s Rule 345, which in 2012 established a formal procedure for tax whistleblowers to request anonymity.

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Tax Court Sheds Light on Whistleblower’s Denied Award

What can whistleblowers do when the IRS Whistleblower Office denies them an award for helping the government to recover money from a suspected tax cheat?

They can do what Albert G. Hill, III, did — challenge the denial in tax court.

But such challenges are difficult without access to information that the IRS used to deny the award in its often-opaque decision process. In Mr. Hill’s case, the IRS took a common — yet extreme — position on taxpayer confidentiality, refusing to allow Mr. Hill to review documents from the administrative file of the taxpayer he had targeted.

This week the U.S. Tax Court ordered the IRS to hand over the documents under strict conditions — and, in doing so, provided a sensible model for how such appeals should be handled.

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Tax Court Blasts IRS for ‘Obfuscation’ in Whistleblower Case

In an unusually blunt opinion, the U.S. Tax Court rebuked the Internal Revenue Service for continuing to fight award claims made by two anonymous whistleblowers — even as the agency was reopening the same claims in a related investigation.

In a dismissal order issued on May 10, 2013, Judge Maurice Foley slammed the IRS for providing “incomplete, misleading, and possibly inaccurate information” in the case.

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First False Claims Act Tax Recovery in New York; Whistleblower Awarded $1.1 Million

A well-known New York City tailor pled guilty to tax-evasion charges and separately agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle a related whistleblower case brought under New York State’s False Claims Act (FCA).

The whistleblower, Vijay Tharwani, a former employee of the tailor, will receive $1.1 million of the settlement.

The case marked the first time the state’s recently strengthened FCA has been used successfully in a tax case; in 2010, New York became the first state to authorize citizens to sue tax cheats on its behalf.

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D.C. Legislation Would Extend False Claims Act Treatment to Taxes

On February 5, 2013, D.C. Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) presented the “False Claims Act of 2013” to the Committees on Finance and Revenue.  This bill would extend the current False Claims Act which fails to apply to violations of the tax code.

The False Claims Act of 2013 would enable whistleblowers to receive a reward for providing the District with non-public information that assists the District of Columbia in collecting tax funds that it is owed.   Under the proposed law, tax fraud whistleblowers would be eligible for a reward only if the D.C. Government succeeding in recovering the owed tax payments.

The propose law would allow the government and whistleblowers to file a tax-based claim under the False Claims Act if the tax fraud in question exceeded  $350,000 and if the entity or taxpayer has an income in excess of $1 million.

The introduction of this bill in D.C. is significant as is part of a broader trend of states and local jurisdictions considering extensions of local whistleblower statutes.  If D.C. passes this bill, it would join the State of New York, which recently passed a False Claims Act statue allowing qui tam recoveries for those who report significant tax fraud.

The Employment Law Group® law firm regularly represents IRS, SEC, and CFTC whistleblowers.  Our whistleblower lawyers recently published an article, “Rewarding Whistleblowers for Disclosing Tax Violations to the IRS” for The CPA Journal.