Connecticut’s Department of Revenue Services (DRS) has arrested and charged a New Haven restauranteur with various offenses for using sales tax suppression software. According to a press release announcing the charges, this is the first time the State of Connecticut has charged an individual for using “zapper” software, which it describes as “a type of commercial ‘phantom-ware’ used to create fraudulent point-of-sale records that deliberately understate taxes actually collected.” Zapper programs are used to delete some or all of a restaurant’s cash transactions and then reconcile the books of the business. The result is that the company’s books appear to be complete and accurate, but are in fact false because they reflect fewer sales than were actually made.
We previously wrote about the Justice Department’s efforts to crack down on the use of tax suppression software by charging a software salesman in Seattle who worked for a Canadian company that sold “point of sale” program that enabled restaurants to underreport their sales. Historically, state law enforcement agencies, not the Justice Department or Internal Revenue Service, have taken the lead in cracking down on the use of revenue suppression software. In early 2016, the Attorney General of Washington filed what he called the “first-of-its-kind” criminal case against a restauranteur, Yu-Ling Wong, for allegedly using sales suppression software to avoid paying nearly $400,000 in state sales tax. That case began as a routine audit by the Washington State Department of Revenue, which trains its auditors to detect the use of revenue suppression software. Auditors noted an unusual change in cash receipts, as compared to the restaurant’s historical cash receipts, determined that the restaurant’s point-of-sale system could not be trusted, and eventually uncovered the use of Zapper software.
Many states have passed laws outlawing the use of revenue suppression software, including Washington, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Utah, and West Virginia, and others are considering proposals to enact such laws. And the problem is not just confined to the United States. In a 2013 report entitled “Electronic Sales Suppression: A Threat to Tax Revenues,” the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded that revenue suppression software “facilitate[s] tax evasion and result[s] in massive tax loss globally.”
In the Connecticut case, the defendant, Xiaoning Fan of New Haven, was arrested by DRS Special Agents from the Criminal Investigations Unit at her Lao Sze Chaun restaurant in Milford. Ms. Fan was charged with possession of tax suppression software, larceny in the 1st degree and willful delivery of a false return. She is charged with two Class D felonies subject to a fine of up to $100,000 and a sentence of one to five years or both, a Class B felony subject to a fine of up to $15,000 and a sentence of one to twenty years or both. She is also liable for all taxes, penalties, and interest due to the state as a result of the crime, forfeiture of all profits associated with the sale, and confiscation of the zapper device as contraband.
Said DRS Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan, “[t]his arrest is a big breakthrough for DRS. We have been working with other states to develop our ability to detect and prosecute ‘zapper’ fraud. What began as a routine tax audit became a DRS arrest when our specially trained auditors successfully detected illegal use of sales suppression software from 2008 to 2016 that resulted in over $80,000 of state tax evasion plus an additional $60,000 in penalty and interest charges. At DRS, we continue to step up our game in the fight to stop tax fraud.”
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