The Internal Revenue Service has announced that the nation’s tax season will begin on Monday, January 29, 2018. As is typically the case, the annual opening of tax season is accompanied by well-publicized enforcement actions intended to warn potential tax cheats of the perils of filing a false tax return. This year is no different, with the announcement that reality television personality Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino and his brother, Marc Sorrentino, pleaded guilty today to violating federal tax laws.
Michael Sorrentino was a reality television personality who gained fame on “The Jersey Shore,” which first appeared on the MTV network. According to documents and information provided to the court, he and his brother created businesses, such as MPS Entertainment LLC and Situation Nation Inc., to take advantage of Michael’s celebrity status. Michael Sorrentino admitted that in tax year 2011, he earned taxable income, including some that was paid in cash, and that he concealed a portion of his income to evade paying the full amount of taxes he owed. He also made cash deposits into bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000, in an effort to ensure that these deposits would not come to the attention of the IRS. Marc Sorrentino admitted that for tax year 2010, he earned taxable income and that he assisted his accountants in preparing his personal tax return by willfully providing them with false information and fraudulently underreporting his income. Gregg Mark, the accountant for the Sorrentino brothers, previously pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiring to defraud the United States with respect to their tax liabilities.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 25, 2018.
Today’s announcement was replete with the usual warnings to would-be tax evaders from Justice Department and IRS officials:
“Today’s pleas are a reminder to all individuals to comply with the tax laws, file honest and accurate returns and pay their fair share,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman. “The Tax Division is committed to continuing to work with the IRS to prosecute those who seek to cheat the system, while honest hardworking taxpayers play by the rules.”
“What the defendants admitted to today, quite simply, is tantamount to stealing money from their fellow taxpayers,” said U.S. Attorney Carpenito. “All of us are required by law to pay our fair share of taxes. Celebrity status does not provide a free pass from this obligation.”
“As we approach this year’s filing season, today’s guilty pleas should serve as a stark reminder to those who would attempt to defraud our nation’s tax system,” stated Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Newark Field Office. “No matter what your stature is in our society, everyone is expected to play by the rules, and those who do not will be held accountable and brought to justice.”
It is well-known that the IRS and Justice Department typically increase the frequency of their press releases announcing enforcement activity in the weeks leading up to the tax filing deadline. In fact, academic research confirms that these agencies issue a disproportionately large number of tax enforcement press releases as “Tax Day” approaches:
Every spring, the federal government appears to deliver an abundance of announcements that describe criminal convictions and civil injunctions involving taxpayers who have been accused of committing tax fraud. Commentators have occasionally suggested that the government announces a large number of tax enforcement actions in close proximity to a critical date in the tax compliance landscape: April 15, “Tax Day.” These claims previously were merely speculative, as they lacked any empirical support. This article fills the empirical void by seeking to answer a straightforward question: When does the government publicize tax enforcement? To conduct our study, we analyzed all 782 press releases issued by the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division during the seven-year period of 2003 through 2009 in which the agency announced a civil or criminal tax enforcement action against a specific taxpayer identified by name. Our principal finding is that, during those years, the government issued a disproportionately large number of tax enforcement press releases during the weeks immediately prior to Tax Day compared to the rest of the year and that this difference is highly statistically significant. A convincing explanation for this finding is that government officials deliberately use tax enforcement publicity to influence individual taxpayers’ perceptions and knowledge of audit probability, tax penalties, and the government’s tax enforcement efficacy while taxpayers are preparing their annual individual tax returns.
Joshua D. Blank and Daniel Z. Levin, When Is Tax Enforcement Publicized?, 30 Virginia Tax Review 1 (2010).
As “Tax Day 2018” approaches, we can expect similar — and more frequent — announcements intended to deter would-be tax cheats from filing false tax returns.
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