Monday, March 17, 2014

What Can The IRS Do To You For Ignoring That Wage Or Levy Request?

What happens if the IRS sends you a levy (say on an employee, but it could also be your account payable to a vendor) and you ignore it?

You can guess that it is not going to be good.

I am looking at U.S. v 911 Management.

Daniel Dent was the sole manager of 911 Management, a limited liability company. The company must have been successful, as it was distributing $5,700 monthly to Kathy Weathers, one of its members. In 2007, the company further entered into an agreement with Kathy to operate two hotels owned by her, from which it would pay her 3% of the monthly gross proceeds.

In 2007, the IRS served levy against the bank accounts of 911 Management. That action wound up in litigation.

In February 2008, the IRS served Notice of Levy on 911 Management. It wanted both the $5,700 and 3%, as the Weathers had fallen behind on taxes for 1996 and from 1998 through 2006. Turns out that Tom and Kathy Weathers were convicted of tax fraud. Tom was serving 60 months at Club Fed, and Kathy received two years of probation.

OBSERVATION: Tom Weathers went to prison in October 2005. Coincidentally, 911 Management was formed the same month. The Company was paying Kathy $5,700 monthly, and that amount increased when she added the management of two hotels into the mix. The IRS was fairly confident that the transaction was a sham and a way to provide monies to her while her husband was in jail.

There were technical issues with the levy notice, and the previous levy effort by the IRS was in litigation. Dent contacted his business advisor as well as an attorney, and he in turn received two separate but not conflicting responses. The business advisor informed him that a bond had been posted, satisfying all the back taxes for the Weathers. It was therefore not necessary to honor the Notice of Levy, as the matter had been resolved.

COMMENT: The Revenue Officer informed Dent otherwise and that monies were still due. This must have alerted Dent that not all the facts were in.

Dent also contacted an attorney, who had reservations about the levy procedure itself. The attorney believed that the levy did not apply, because the levy was for salaries and wages and the payments to Mrs. Weathers were neither.

OBSERVATION: Thus began a high-stakes gambit. There are tax practitioners who play a heavy-procedural game, waiting if not stoking the IRS to make a procedural mistake. For the most part, I have found this to be the arena of the tax attorneys rather than tax CPAs, and I have been on the listening end of some scathing anecdotes by IRS revenue agents over the years. The IRS catches on, of course, and will commonly assign more experienced agents when such a practitioner surfaces. Still sometimes the tactic works, and the tete a tete continues another day.

Dent informed the revenue officer that the levy did not apply. He of course did not remit the $5,700 or the 3%. The revenue officer vociferously disagreed. Dent did not remit anything, relying upon his attorney’s advice that the levy was erroneous.

Remember that I mentioned the IRS had levied in 2007, a year before? That case was decided, and both 911 Management and Dent were held personally liable for the levy request. That is what happens when one ignores a levy: one steps into the shoes of the delinquent taxpayer. It is the levy equivalent of the “responsible person” taxes, which apply when one does not remit withheld payroll taxes.

So Dent was held personally responsible. Can it get worse?

You bet.

There is another penalty: the Section 6632(d)(2) penalty, which is 50% for failure to honor the levy. The IRS wanted this penalty against Dent. Remember, the IRS believed 911 Management to be a sham, so they were going to go the extra mile against Dent for participating in the sham and resisting the levy.

There is a “reasonable cause” exception to the penalty, and the Court decided that Dent had reasonable cause. How? Apparently, there was enough smoke on the water over IRS procedure in pursuing the levy that the Court accepted Dent’s reliance on his attorney as reasonable cause.

Mind you, they accepted his reliance on an attorney as reasonable cause to not levy another 50%. Dent was already personally responsible.

Another “win” like that and Dent might bankrupt himself.

COMMENT: 911 Management came into existence when Mr. Weathers went to jail in 2005 for five years. When did 911 Management cease doing business? Five years later – 2010 – when Mr. Weathers was released from jail. Coincidence? Just saying.

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