The Evolving Standard of “Willfulness” in FBAR Cases: Where are We Now?

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Matthew L. Roberts

Matthew L. Roberts

Principal

469.998.8482
mroberts@freemanlaw.com

Mr. Roberts is a Principal of the firm. He devotes a substantial portion of his legal practice to helping his clients successfully navigate and resolve their federal tax disputes, either administratively, or, if necessary, through litigation. As a trusted advisor he has provided legal advice and counsel to hundreds of clients, including individuals and entrepreneurs, non-profits, trusts and estates, partnerships, and corporations.

Having served nearly three years as an attorney-advisor to the Chief Judge of the United States Tax Court in Washington, D.C., Mr. Roberts leverages his unique insight into government processes to offer his clients creative, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to their tax problems. In private practice, he has successfully represented clients in all phases of a federal tax dispute, including IRS audits, appeals, litigation, and collection matters. He also has significant experience representing clients in employment tax audits, voluntary disclosures, FBAR penalties and litigation, trust fund penalties, penalty abatement and waiver requests, and criminal tax matters.

Often times, Mr. Roberts has been engaged to utilize his extensive knowledge of tax controversy matters to assist clients in their transactional matters. For example, he has provided tax advice to businesses on complex tax matters related to domestic and international transactions, formations, acquisitions, dispositions, mergers, spin-offs, liquidations, and partnership divisions.

In addition to federal tax disputes, Mr. Roberts has represented clients in matters relating to white-collar crimes, estate and probate disputes, fiduciary disputes, complex contractual and settlement disputes, business disparagement and defamation claims, and other complex civil litigation matters.

The concept of “willfulness” is an important one in the FBAR civil penalty context.  Indeed, a taxpayer’s willful failure to file a timely and accurate FBAR may result in significant penalties:  the higher of 50-percent of the unreported account balance at the time of the violation or $100,000 (adjusted for inflation).  Take this simple example:

Mark is a dual citizen of the United States and Australia.  Mark routinely travels to Australia to visit his family. In one year, Mark chooses to live and work in Australia, making $300,000 as an independent contractor.  Mark deposits the funds from his work in an Australian bank account.

When tax time comes, Mark files an income tax return reporting the $300,000 of income.  However, he fails to file an FBAR reporting the maximum account balance in the foreign account, which was $200,000.  If the IRS determines that Mark’s failure to file an FBAR was willful, the IRS may assess a $100,000 willful FBAR penalty against him.

Admittedly, the facts in the above hypothetical alone are not sufficient to indicate willfulnessBut a few additional facts can easily change this result.  For example, assume the same facts above except assume further that Mark failed to report the $300,000 on his income tax return.  Are the above facts in conjunction with his failure to report income sufficient to constitute a willful FBAR penalty?  Instead, what if Mark reported all of the income but improperly checked the box “No” on Schedule B, where it asks if Mark has any foreign accounts during the tax year.  Is this additional fact sufficient to find willfulness?

Maybe, or maybe not.  It all hinges on the proper definition of the term “willfulness.”  Regrettably, many taxpayers reasonably believe that the term willful must have its commonly-understood meaning—that is, Mark would be liable for willful FBAR penalties only if he knew of the FBAR reporting obligation and purposely chose not to file.  Although it is true that the government could sustain its burden by showing intentional conduct, it is also true that the government does not have to go that far.  Federal courts have routinely sided with the IRS in concluding that the term “willful” encompasses not only intentional conduct but “reckless” conduct as well.   Because reckless conduct is much easier to prove in these instances, the IRS generally attempts to show mere recklessness on the part of the taxpayer to sustain the willful FBAR penalty.

This article discusses the evolution of the willfulness standard.  It starts by providing a brief history of the FBAR provisions in general.  From there, it discusses the Supreme Court’s decision in Safeco Ins., which significantly changed the definition of willfulness for most federal civil penalty statutes, including the FBAR provisions.  Finally, the article concludes with some of the more seminal FBAR cases and an analysis of the willfulness standard today.  

Quick History of the FBAR Rules

The Bank Secrecy Act

Congress enacted the Bank Secrecy Act (the “BSA”) in 1970.[i]  Codified in Title 31 of the United States Code, the BSA was enacted “to require certain reports or records where such reports or records have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory investigations or proceedings.”[ii]  Among other requirements, the BSA mandated new reporting obligations for United States persons who had relationships with foreign financial institutions.[iii]

After passage of the BSA, the Secretary of the Treasury (“Treasury”) was authorized to promulgate regulations for the implementation and enforcement of the new BSA reporting requirements.[iv]   Pursuant to this authority, in 1972 Treasury began requiring individuals to file information reports with the United States government.  Significantly, however, at this time, Congress did not authorize Treasury to impose civil penalties against individual taxpayers for failure to file required information returns—rather, only “domestic financial institutions” and their agents were subject to civil monetary penalties.[v]

Congress Amends the BSA

In response to money-laundering concerns, Congress amended the BSA in 1986 to provide for civil monetary penalties against individuals.[vi]  Under the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986,[vii] Congress imposed penalties against individuals, but only if the failure to report was willful.[viii]   And by statute, Congress set the maximum amount of the willful penalty as the greater of $25,000 or an amount (not to exceed $100,000) equal to the balance in the account at the time of the violation.[ix]  This willful penalty would remain the same until 2004.

The PATRIOT Act and Treasury’s Report to Congress

On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked domestically by a group of terrorists.  In response, Congress passed the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (the “PATRIOT ACT”).[x]  The PATRIOT Act required Treasury to “study methods for improving compliance with the [FBAR] reporting requirements established in section 5314 of title 31, United States Code,” and to submit regular reports to Congress on this subject.[xi]

Under this requirement, Treasury submitted a report to Congress in 2002.[xii]  The report indicated that although it was difficult to determine with certainty how many taxpayers complied with the existing FBAR reporting requirements, it was estimated that compliance rates were low, or “less than 20 percent.”[xiii]

The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004

Congress drastically changed the BSA after Treasury’s 2002 report with enactment of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (the “ACJA”), which divided FBAR reporting violations into one of two categories:  willful violations and non-willful violations.[xiv]  Under the ACJA, willful violations could result in monetary penalties against taxpayers equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50-percent of the amount of the balance in the account at the time of the violation.[xv]  Conversely, if the taxpayers’ conduct was non-willful, Treasury was authorized to impose a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation.[xvi]

The Current FBAR Reporting Requirements

Not much has changed since 2004.  Currently, 31 U.S.C. § 5314 provides the statutory authority for the imposition of the FBAR reporting and filing requirements.  Under that statute, Treasury “shall require a resident or citizen of the United States . . . to keep records, file reports, or keep records and file reports, when the resident . . . [or] citizen . . . makes a transaction or maintains a relation for any person with a foreign financial agency.”  Treasury regulations under this provision provide:

Each United States person having a financial interest in, or signature or other authority over, a bank, securities, or other financial account in a foreign country shall report such relationship to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue for each year in which such relationship exists and shall provide such information as shall be specified in a reporting form prescribed under 31 U.S.C. § 5314 to be filed by such persons.  The form prescribed under section 5314 is the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (TD-F 90-22.1), or any successor form.[xvii]

These regulations also provide that an FBAR is required if the foreign financial accounts cumulatively exceed $10,000 at any time in the prior reporting year.[xviii]  Today, the penalties for willful and non-willful conduct remain substantially the same as they were under the ACJA, except that the penalties are now adjusted for inflation.

The Safeco Ins. Decision

It may surprise you to learn that the definition of “willfulness” for purposes of the FBAR statute is borrowed from the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of another “willful” penalty provision in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”).  More specifically, in 2007, the Supreme Court held in Safeco Ins. [xix]  that the statutory term of “willfully” under the FCRA penalty provisions included not only intentional conduct but also reckless conduct.  In recognizing that reckless conduct was within the definition of willfulness, the Supreme Court reasoned:

We have said before that ‘willfully’ is a word of many meanings whose construction is often dependent on the context in which it appears . . . and where willfulness is a statutory condition of civil liability, we have generally taken it to cover not only knowing violations of a standard, but reckless ones as well[.]  This construction reflects common law usage, which treated actions in ‘reckless disregard’ of the law as ‘willful’ violations.  The standard civil usage thus counsels reading the phrase ‘willfully fails to comply’ in . . . [the FCRA] as reaching reckless FCRA violations, and this is so both on the interpretative assumption that Congress knows how we construe statutes and expects us to run true to form . . . and under the general rule that a common law term in a statute comes with a common law meaning, absent anything pointing another way.[xx]

Thus, after Safeco Ins., federal courts have generally interjected the concept of recklessness into any potential statutory penalty for willfulness.

The Government Argues for Recklessness in the FBAR Context

The 2012 decisions in Williams and McBride were two of the first federal court decisions to interpret the term “willful” for purposes of the FBAR penalty provisions.  Both decisions drew heavily from the Supreme Court’s decision in Safeco Ins. and both agreed that the term willful in the FBAR context should include a taxpayer’s reckless behavior.

                        Williams

In Williams, the federal government filed suit against Williams for failing to report two Swiss bank accounts for his 2000 tax year.  Williams had opened the foreign account in 1993 in the name of a British Corporation in which he held an ownership interest.  Between 1993 and 2000, Williams deposited more than $7 million into the Swiss bank accounts, earning substantial income.  Williams did not file FBARs or report the income on a federal income tax return.

Williams was later found guilty of, among other things, criminal tax evasion.  In his plea agreement, Williams admitted that he committed all of the acts necessary for the government to prove its criminal claims against him.

In January 2007, Williams filed late FBARs for his 1993 through 2000 tax years.  Because the statute of limitations to assess FBAR penalties had expired with respect to all years except 2000, the government moved to assess the willful FBAR penalty against Williams for that later year.  After the government assessed the 2000 willful FBAR penalty, the government brought suit against Williams to reduce the assessment to judgment.  Williams contended at trial that his conduct was not willful and therefore the willful penalty should not apply.

The lower court agreed with Williams.[xxi]  It held that “the Government ha[d] failed to prove a ‘willful’ violation.”  In addition, although recognizing that willful conduct included reckless behavior under Safeco Ins., the lower court concluded that the facts in that case did not support imposition of the willful FBAR penalty against Williams.

The government appealed the decision in Williams to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.[xxii]   In an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit held that the lower court had erred in concluding that Williams had not acted willfully.  First, the Fourth Circuit held that the term “willful” encompassed not only intentional acts, but also reckless acts and willful blindness.  Second, with respect to willful blindness, the Fourth Circuit stated:

‘[W]illful blindness’ may be inferred where ‘a defendant was subjectively aware of a high possibility of the existence of a tax liability, and purposely avoided learning the facts point to such liability.’ Importantly, in cases ‘where willfulness is a statutory condition of civil liability, [courts] have generally taken it to cover not only knowing violations of a standard, but reckless ones as well.’  Whether a person has willfully failed to comply with a tax reporting requirement is a question of fact.

Under this relaxed standard, the court had little trouble finding that Williams acted at least recklessly or with willful blindness. More specifically, the court recognized that:  (1) Williams had signed a 2000 tax return under penalties of perjury and was therefore deemed to have constructive knowledge of its contents, including the question on Schedule B regarding foreign accounts; (2) nothing in the record suggested that Williams ever consulted the FBAR form or instructions for further guidance; (3) Williams gave false answers on a tax organizer; and (4) Williams’ guilty plea included a concession by Williams that he had acted willfully.

McBride

Shortly after Williams was decided in the Fourth Circuit, a lower court in Utah similarly concluded that a taxpayer may be liable for a willful FBAR penalty where the taxpayer’s conduct was reckless or done with willful blindness.  In McBride,[xxiii]the taxpayer-owned a company that he reasonably believed would increase its profits in the near future.  In an attempt to shelter this projected income from U.S. income taxes, McBride met with a financial management firm.

The financial management firm advised McBride that he could legally shelter income from his company through annuities, International Business Corporations (“IBCs”), and foreign financial accounts held in nominee names.  McBride chose to move forward with the tax plan and eventually sheltered over $2.7 million of income from U.S. income taxes through his use of the plan.

McBride never informed his tax preparer of the plan.  In addition, McBride never sought a tax opinion from an outside attorney regarding the propriety of the tax plan.  For his 2000 and 2001 tax returns, McBride checked the boxes “No” on Schedule B regarding whether he had interests in foreign accounts.  When the IRS initiated an examination of his tax returns, McBride was uncooperative and, at times, untruthful.  After the examination concluded, the IRS assessed two willful FBAR penalties against him for his 2000 and 2001 tax years.

On these facts, the lower court held that McBride’s conduct was willful under either the reckless or willful blindness standard.   In holding in favor of the government, the lower court found the following facts dispositive on the issue of willfulness:  (1) McBride failed to discuss the foreign accounts with his tax preparer; (2) McBride failed to obtain a tax opinion on his reporting obligations; (3) McBride signed the tax returns for 2000 and 2001 and answered “No” on Schedule B regarding whether he had interests in foreign accounts; and (4) certain marketing and promotional materials provided to McBride by the financial management firm suggested that McBride may have U.S. reporting obligations regarding his interests in foreign accounts.

            Bedrosian.

In 2018, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals also weighed in on the proper definition of willfulness for purposes of FBAR penalties. [xxiv] In that case, Bedrosian was a successful businessman who worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

He initially opened a foreign account in Switzerland so that he could make purchases while traveling abroad for work without relying on traveler’s checks.  Sometime in 2005, Bedrosian later opened another foreign account in Switzerland to use for investment purposes.

In the 1990s, Bedrosian informed his tax preparer that he maintained a foreign account.  Although the tax preparer advised Bedrosian that he had a duty to file FBARs, Bedrosian contended that the tax preparer also advised him that his failure to file FBARs could be resolved when he passed away.  On the basis of this advice, Bedrosian opted to continue to not file FBARs.

When Bedrosian’s tax preparer passed away, Bedrosian’s new tax preparer prepared an FBAR on Bedrosian’s behalf.  However, the FBAR only reported one of Bedrosian’s foreign accounts and omitted another account in which Bedrosian had over $2 million of assets.

Bedrosian later became concerned that he was not complying fully with his FBAR reporting obligations.  He sought legal counsel and thereafter corrected several years of inaccuracies on his prior year FBARs.  However, the IRS initiated an examination of Bedrosian in April of 2011.

At the conclusion of the examination, the IRS assessed against Bedrosian a penalty for willful failure to disclose the larger foreign bank account.  Moreover, the IRS assessed the statutory maximum, or 50-percent of the account balance, which resulted in a $957,789 FBAR penalty.  Bedrosian filed suit against the government and the government counterclaimed for the full amount.

The lower court held a one-day bench trial and ruled in favor of Bedrosian.  The government appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Third Circuit disagreed with the lower court’s judgment.  In recognizing that a taxpayer may be liable for a willful FBAR penalty through reckless conduct alone, the court stated:

[A] person commits a reckless violation of the FBAR statute by engaging in conduct that violates an objective standard:  action entailing an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known.  This holding is in line with other courts that have addressed civil FBAR penalties, as well as our prior cases addressing civil penalties assessed by the IRS under the tax laws.  With respect to IRS filings in particular, a person ‘recklessly’ fails to comply with an IRS filing requirement when he or she (1) clearly ought to have known that (2) there was a grave risk that [the filing requirement was not being met] and if (3) he [or she] was in a position to find out for certain very easily.

Under this standard for willfulness, the Third Circuit held that the lower court had erred in analyzing Bedrosian’s subjective motivations in not filing an FBAR and the overall “egregiousness” of his conduct.  On this basis, the court remanded Bedrosian’s case to the lower court for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law.

With the new standard, the lower court found against Bedrosian, concluding that he was at least reckless because: (1) he cooperated with the government only after he was exposed as having foreign hidden accounts; (2) shortly after filing the FBAR at issue, he sent letters to the foreign bank directing closure of two accounts (although he only disclosed one foreign account on the FBAR); (3) his foreign accounts were subject to a “mail hold”; and (4) he was aware of significant amounts of money held in the foreign accounts.  Accordingly, on these facts, the lower court held that “Bedrosian’s actions were willful because he recklessly disregarded the risk that his FBAR was inaccurate.”

Post-Bedrosian

After the Third Circuit’s decision in Bedrosian, both the Fourth[xxv]  and the Eleventh[xxvi]  Circuit Court of Appeals have held that the Bedrosian three-prong test should apply to determine whether a taxpayer had sufficient recklessness to constitute willful conduct.  Moreover, district courts within the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits have also adopted the Bedrosian test in civil cases involving FBAR-reporting violations.[xxvii]

None of these cases are very helpful for taxpayers.  Nevertheless, there have been a handful of federal decisions that have seemingly heightened the standard for recklessness in the taxpayer’s favor.  For example, in many cases, the government will contend that a taxpayer acted with reckless conduct or willful blindness merely by signing a tax return under penalties of perjury and marking the box “No” on Schedule B as to whether the taxpayer had foreign accounts during the year.  In U.S. v. Schwarzbaum, the Southern District of Florida disagreed that this was sufficient in and of itself to put a taxpayer on notice of the FBAR filing obligation and stated that:

[i]mputing constructive knowledge of filing requirements to a taxpayer simply by virtue of having signed a tax return would render the distinction between a non-willful and willful violation in the FBAR context meaningless.  Because taxpayers are required to sign their tax returns, a violation of the FBAR filing requirements could never be non-willful.  Yet, the statute provides for non-willful penalties.  Applying the USA’s suggested reasoning would lead to a draconian result and one that would preclude a consideration of other evidence presented.

Accordingly, the USA cannot satisfy its burden of proof in this case on the issue of willfulness simply by relying on the fact that Schwarzbaum signed his tax returns or neglected to review them as thoroughly as he should have. [xxviii]

The Standard of Willfulness Today

Currently, federal courts have found taxpayers liable for willful FBAR penalties if the conduct fits within one of three circumstances:   (1) the taxpayer knowingly violated the FBAR filing requirements; (2) the taxpayer recklessly violated the FBAR filing requirements; or (3) the taxpayer acted with “willful blindness” by making a conscious effort to avoid learning about the FBAR reporting requirements.  In analyzing the decisions of federal courts, many of which have already been discussed above, the IRS defines each of these circumstances more fully as follows:

Knowing violation.  Willfulness is shown when a person knew of the FBAR reporting and recordkeeping requirements and made a voluntary, intentional, or conscious choice not to accurately report an account on a timely filed FBAR or keep required records.[xxix]

Reckless violation.  Willfulness is also shown when a person recklessly disregards the FBAR reporting and recordkeeping requirements.  Recklessness is evaluated using an objective standard, not by looking at whether a person subjectively believed that he or she was not required to accurately report the account on a timely filed FBAR or keep required records.  The objective standard looks at whether conduct entailed an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known.  A person recklessly violates the FBAR reporting or recordkeeping requirements when the person clearly ought to have known that there was a grave risk that the requirements were not being met and the person was in a position to very easily find out for certain whether or not the requirements are being met.[xxx]

Willful blindness.  Willfulness is also shown when a person acted with willful blindness by making a conscious effort to avoid learning about the FBAR reporting or recordkeeping requirements.  Example:  Willful blindness may be present when a person admits knowledge of, and fails to answer questions concerning, their interest in or signature or other authority over financial accounts at foreign banks on Schedule B of their Federal income tax return.  This section of the income tax return refers taxpayers to the instructions for Schedule B, which provides guidance on their responsibilities for reporting foreign bank accounts and discusses the duty to file the FBAR.  These resources indicate that the person could have learned of the reporting requirements quite easily.  It is reasonable to assume that a person who has foreign bank accounts should read the information specified by the government in tax forms.  The failure to act on this information and learn of further reporting requirements, as suggested on Schedule B, may provide evidence of willful blindness on the part of the person.[xxxi]

Notably, the National Taxpayer Advocate (“NTA”) has been a routine critic of the current willful FBAR penalty regime.  For example, in her last report to Congress, the NTA noted that “[t]he maximum FBAR penalty is among the harshest civil penalties the government may impose.”[xxxii]  And with respect to the blurred distinction between willful and non-willful conduct, the NTA has stated:

While the distinction between willful and non-willful violations makes sense, it generates controversy because it can be difficult for taxpayers to establish that a violation was not willful.  Schedule B of Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, asks if the taxpayer has a foreign account and references the FBAR filing requirement.  Taxpayers are presumed to know the contents of their returns when they sign the return under penalty of perjury . . . It may be considered reckless or ‘willful blindness’ for them not to learn about the FBAR filing requirement after having been directed to the FBAR form by Schedule B.  For this reason, the government might reasonably argue (and a court might reasonably find) that any failure to file an FBAR form is willful where the taxpayer filed a federal tax return that included Schedule B, which directs taxpayers to the FBAR filing requirement.  This is particularly true if a taxpayer has taken steps to hide the account to protect his or her financial privacy.

Account holders who do not file required FBAR forms due to negligence, inadvertence, or similar non-nefarious causes may be subject to penalties for non-willful violations (which have a reasonable cause exception).  But they should not face uncertainty regarding the possible application of the extraordinarily harsh penalties for ‘willful’ violations.  The National Taxpayer Advocate recommends that Congress clarify that the IRS must prove a violation was ‘willful’ without relying so heavily on the instructions to Schedule B or the failure to check the box on Schedule B before imposing a willful FBAR penalty.  To address violations that result from recklessness or willful blindness, Congress should establish a separate penalty that is greater than the penalty applied to non-willful violations but less than the penalty applied to willful violations.[xxxiii]

As noted above by the NTA, it is common for taxpayers (and even tax professionals) to mistakenly believe that a taxpayer’s conduct was non-willful.  Regrettably, the writer of this article has seen instances in which taxpayers and tax professionals have made critical mistakes in making this determination, particularly with respect to the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.  Under those procedures, taxpayers may receive reduced penalties for coming forward for certain non-filings, including FBARs.  However, the IRS cautions that only taxpayers who were non-willful qualify for the benefits of the program and that taxpayers who do not qualify should use the IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Program instead—which, predictably, has higher penalties.

In its instructions to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, the IRS provides that “[n]on-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.”  The IRS does not inform taxpayers, however, that there is a fine line between negligence, inadvertence, and mistake, on the one hand, and reckless conduct or willful blindness, on the other hand.  Thus, taxpayers and tax professionals who advise their clients to enter into the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures without reviewing all of the relevant facts and circumstances often do so at their own peril.  To the extent the IRS catches the taxpayer, the taxpayer is removed from the program and can potentially face perjury charges.  Moreover, the IRS can use the information in the submission as admissions against the taxpayer at a later trial.

On a final note, the IRS also acknowledges that willful cases are not always slam dunks.  Accordingly, IRS examiners are instructed to carefully build a case by looking for certain helpful documents and other information, such as: (1) copies of foreign bank statements; (2) correspondence between the taxpayer and the tax preparer; (3) copies of FBARs filed from previous years (if any); and (4) copies of income tax returns filed by the taxpayer, particularly if the return includes a Schedule B.[xxxiv]  IRS examiners are also instructed to discuss the issue with the taxpayer and solicit an explanation as to why the FBAR was not timely filed or why a timely filed FBAR omitted a foreign account.[xxxv]  Taxpayers should exercise caution in providing answers to these questions as those answers may be used against them later in trial as admissions.  Taxpayers should also bear in mind that federal courts have concluded that the IRS bears the burden of proof on the issue of whether the conduct was willful and/or reckless.

Conclusion

Willfulness is a term of art with respect to FBAR penalties.  In many cases, it may be difficult to determine whether a taxpayer’s conduct was willful—particularly because federal courts and the IRS view willfulness to include reckless conduct and willful blindness.  Taxpayers who have failed to timely and accurately report their foreign accounts on FBARs (and potentially other foreign information returns) should consult with a tax advisor to determine whether actions can be taken to reduce or mitigate an IRS’s determination to impose willful FBAR penalties.  In most cases, the tax professional should review all of the relevant facts and circumstances to determine whether the conduct could be viewed as willful by the IRS.  If there is a risk of such a finding, taxpayers may be properly advised to make a submission under the IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Program.

 

[i] Pub. L. No. 91-508, 84 Stat. 1114 (1970).

[ii] Id. at § 202.

[iii] See id. at § 241; see also U.S. v. Kahn, 5 F.4th 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2021).

[iv] See id.; U.S. v. Cohen, No. 17-1652-MWF, 2019 WL 4605709, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2019).

[v] Kahn, 5 F.4th at 170; Cohen, at *3.

[vi] See Khan, 5 F.4th at 170.

[vii] Pub. L. No. 99-570.

[viii] Khan, 2019 WL 8587295, at *4.

[ix] Id. at *5.

[x] Pub. L. No. 107-56,

[xi] Khan, 2019 WL 8587295, at *6.

[xii] Secretary of the Treasury, A Report to Congress in Accordance with § 361(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act, Apr. 26, 2002.

[xiii] Id. at 6.

[xiv] See Pub. L. No. 108-357.

[xv] Id. at (a)(5)(C), (D).

[xvi] Id. at (a)(5)(A).

[xvii] 31 C.F.R. § 1010.350.

[xviii] 31 C.F.R. § 1010.306(c).

[xix] Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007).

[xx] Id. at 57-58.

[xxi] See U.S. v. Williams, No. 1:09-cv-437, 2010 WL 3473311 (E.D. Va. Sept. 1, 2010).

[xxii] See U.S. v. Williams, 489 Fed. Appx. 655 (4th Cir. 2012).

[xxiii] U.S. v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 2d 1186 (D. Utah 2012).

[xxiv] Bedrosian v. Dep’t of Treasury, 912 F.3d 144 (3d Cir. 2018).

[xxv] U.S. v. Horowitz, 978 F.3d 80 (4th Cir. 2020).

[xxvi] U.S. v. Rum, 995 F.3d 882 (11th Cir. 2021).

[xxvii] See, e.g., U.S. v. Goldsmith, No. 3:20-cv-00087, 2021 WL 2138520, at *26 (S.D. Cal. May 25, 2021).

[xxviii] U.S. v. Schwarzbaum, No. 18-CV-81147, 2020 WL 1316232, at *8 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 20, 2020).

[xxix] I.R.M. pt. 4.26.16.5.5.1 (06-24-2011).

[xxx] Id.

[xxxi] Id.

[xxxii]NTA 2021 Purple Book, available at https://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ARC20_PurpleBook_04_ReformPenInts_35.pdf

[xxxiii] Id.

[xxxiv] I.R.M. pt. 4.26.16.5.5.2 (06-24-2021).

[xxxv] Id.