Paul L. Caron

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Michael Cohen And Theories Of Deterrence In Tax Evasion Cases

Government's Sentencing Memorandum (United States v. Cohen, No. 18 Cr. 602 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 7, 2018)):

Between tax years 2012 and 2016, Cohen evaded taxes by failing to report more than $4 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), which resulted in the avoidance of more than $1.4 million due to the United States Treasury Department. Specifically, Cohen failed to report several different streams of income on his tax returns, which he swore were true and accurate. ...

Cohen’s evasion of these taxes was willful. In his sentencing submission and his submissions to the Probation Department in connection with the preparation of the PSR, Cohen repeatedly attempted to minimize the seriousness of his decision not to report millions of dollars of income over a period of years by blaming his accountant for not uncovering the unreported income. ...

The need for the sentence to promote respect for the law and to afford adequate deterrence further supports imposition of a significant sentence of imprisonment. Congress provided for strong criminal sanctions as a general deterrent to tax evasion, false statements to financial institutions, and campaign finance violations. Given the magnitude and brazenness of the conduct in this case, the interests of deterrence are best served by the imposition of a substantial term of imprisonment. ...

[A] significant sentence of imprisonment would also generally deter tax evasion and other financial crimes by sending the important message that even powerful individuals cannot cheat on their taxes and lie to financial institutions with impunity, because they will be subject to serious federal penalties. This is particularly important in the context of a tax evasion prosecution. Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost annually because people like Cohen – who otherwise take full advantage of all that taxes bring, such as schools, paved roads, transit systems, and Government buildings — shirk their responsibilities as American taxpayers. Meaningful sentences — that is, ones that, through their terms, speak loudly and clearly — must be given in cases like this one so that others are forewarned of the consequences for engaging in tax crimes. As the United States Sentencing Commission has explained, “[b]ecause of the limited number of criminal tax prosecutions relative to the estimated incidence of such violations, deterring others from violating the tax laws is a primary consideration underlying these guidelines. Recognition that the sentence for a criminal tax case will be commensurate with the gravity of the offense should act as a deterrent to would be violators.” U.S.S.G. Ch. 2, Part T, intro. Cmt. Where the incidence of prosecution is lower, the level of punishment must be higher to obtain the same level of deterrence. See generally Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell, Fairness Versus Welfare, 114 Harv. L. Rev. 961, 1225-1303 (2001); see also United States v. Hassebrock, 663 F.3d 906, 922 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming as reasonable a within-Guidelines 32-month sentence for a tax evader when the district court explained that “a sentence of probation would not promote respect for the law, but encourage people to flaunt it”). Indeed, “[s]tudies have shown that salient examples of tax-enforcement actions against specific taxpayers, especially those that involve criminal sanctions, have a significant and positive deterrent effect.” Joshua D. Blank, In Defense of Individual Tax Privacy, 61 Emory L.J. 265, 321 (2011-2012). Our system of voluntary compliance would be undermined if wealthy and successful individuals such as Cohen come to believe that the most severe sanctions that they will face, in the relatively unlikely case that they are caught cheating on their taxes, are the payment of back taxes, interest, and penalties. The Guidelines therefore recognize the harm tax crimes inflict on society and recommend prison sentences for cases like this one.

In sum, the nature of Cohen’s conduct underscores the need for a substantial period of incarceration as a means both to promote respect for the law and to deter future abuses by other individuals seeking improperly to influence the electoral process, evade taxes, or lie to financial institutions.

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Cohen received a mere three years for stealing $1.4 million. White collar sentences are way too low.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Dec 13, 2018 3:19:00 PM