Friday, January 24, 2014

JPMorgan's Nondeductible Madoff Deal

On January 7, 2014, JPMorgan entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department. This is another payment in the ongoing Bernie Madoff saga, and the bank agreed to pay a $1.7 billion settlement as well as $350 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and $543 million to a court-appointed trustee.

Madoff kept significant balances with JPMorgan.  Banks are the first line of defense against fraud, but JPMorgan never filed suspicious activity reports with regulators, even though there were significant reservations as to when they became suspicious. The bank did not admit any criminal activity in the agreement, but it did allow that it missed red flags from the late 1990s to late 2000s.

What caught my eye was the following text from the following joint release by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney and FBI:
… JPMorgan agrees to pay a non-tax deductible penalty of $1.7 billion, in the form of a civil forfeiture, which the Government intends….”

This is unusual language.

The tax code provides a tax deduction for all of the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.

And then the tax Code starts taking back. One take back is Section 162(f):

162(f) FINES AND PENALTIES.— No deduction shall be allowed under subsection (a) for any fine or similar penalty paid to a government for the violation of any law.

Let’s drill down a little bit into the Regulations:

This prohibition applies to any fines paid by a taxpayer because the taxpayer has been convicted of a crime (felony or misdemeanor) in a full criminal proceeding in an appropriate court.   The prohibition also extends to civil fines if the fines are intended by Congress as punitive in nature.

So, if fines are paid pursuant to a criminal case, then the taxpayer is hosed. However, if fines are paid pursuant to a civil case, there is one more step: are the fines punitive in nature?

Attorneys differentiate damages between those that are remedial and those that are punitive. A remedial payment is intended to compensate the government or another party – to “make one whole,” if you will. It is intended to restore what was disturbed, upset or lost, and not intended as penalty or lashing against the payer.

Let’s complicate it bit. There is a court case (Talley Industries Inc v Commissioner) that allows damages to be deductible if they are remedial in intent, even if labeled as a fine or penalty.

EXAMPLE: The NFL fines a player for unnecessary roughness. The NFL can call this a fine, but it is not a fine per Section 162(f) and will be deductible to the player involved.

You are seeing how this is fertile hunting ground for tax lawyers. Unless the payment is pursuant to a criminal case, odds are good that it is deductible.

Now remember that this agreement is Madoff related, and that there are hard feelings about JPMorgan’s involvement with Madoff over the years, and you can see why the Justice Department included the “nondeductible” language in the agreement.

Let’s take this a step further. Under Talley, JPMorgan could deduct the $1.7 billion on its tax return. Remember, it is not a fine or penalty under Sec 162(f) just because somebody somewhere called it as such.

Would JPMorgan be likely to do this?

This is a “deferred prosecution” agreement.  If JPMorgan did deduct the settlement, they might not have an issue with the IRS, but they would likely have a very sizeable issue with the Justice Department.

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