Tuesday, July 17, 2018
News Roundup

In deciding fraud case, Tampa judge blasts tax code as 'bloated and opaque monstrosity'

TAMPA — Two Tampa businessmen accused of cooking up $8 million in bogus tax write-offs for corporate clients were found guilty on all counts by a federal judge this week in a case so complex it took a year to decide.

Duane Crithfield, 70, and Stephen Donaldson Sr., 71, now face up to five years in prison for conspiring to defraud the United States, and up to three years on two counts of helping people to lie on tax returns. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 27-28.

Chief U.S. District Judge Stephen D. Merryday presided over their nonjury trial in June 2016 and filed his 36-page decision Wednesday, using it to poke at America's complicated tax code, which he called "a bloated and opaque monstrosity."

Early last year, he threw out the men's signed, adjudicated plea deals — against their wishes — after defense attorneys began downplaying their clients' criminal conduct and the resulting loss to the IRS.

Prosecutor Jay Trezevant said the scheme cost the government at least $8 million, but the men admitted to just $4,563. That led the judge to conclude there was no meeting of the minds.

Had the plea deal remained intact, Crithfield and Donaldson would have faced no more than three years each in prison — that, for a single count of helping a Sarasota anesthesiologist make a false statement on his corporate tax return.

The two were accused of marketing so-called "Business Protection Plans" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.

Purchasers would pay a premium and claim the cost as a business expense but would later reclaim about 85 percent of the premium if misfortune did not come their way. That spared them paying a much higher marginal tax rate on the earnings.

Merryday wrote that no fair-minded or honorable person could have thought such a scheme would succeed. But he acknowledged that the complex tax code is vulnerable to the efforts of a good salesman.

"That these mostly honest, educated, and experienced taxpayers and their savvy advisers believed in, and committed money to, this criminal scam presents an irrefutable and deafening reminder of the extent of the public's cynicism toward the federal income tax code — a bloated and opaque monstrosity," he wrote.

"In other words, as the present episode evidences, almost no financial scheme is so suspicious or so implausible that a good salesman cannot convince an honest and vigilant taxpayer that the Internal Revenue Service is prepared to award tax relief to a participant."

Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected]

Comments
Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

LARGO — Police detectives are searching for two women accused of snatching a purse from a 53-year-old woman on a motorized shopping cart.They pair were identified as Tanesha Gary, 36, and Shanan Diaz, 38. Largo police said there is probable cause to ...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

A 15-year-old Florida girl with a peanut allergy died last month after she ate what she believed to be regular Chips Ahoy! Chewy cookies.Alexi Ryann Stafford, of Weston, was at a friend’s house when she grabbed the cookie while the re-sealable top of...
Updated: 10 minutes ago

Updated: 10 minutes ago
He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

PELHAM, Ala. — An Alabama college student whose car broke down just before his first day of work made the 20-mile (32-kilometer) journey on foot, a feat that earned him fame — and a new car. News outlets report that hours before his first day working...
Updated: 12 minutes ago

Updated: 16 minutes ago
Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

MENASHA, Wis. — Police say a bicyclist who weaved past the gates blocking access to a bridge over a river in eastern Wisconsin escaped serious injury after falling into the gap that was created when the bridge started to rise. Wisconsin Department of...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

WASHINGTON – Acknowledging both the challenges and urgency to work out a public-private financing plan, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday expressed extreme confidence in Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg to make a de...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
SEC media days: Dan Mullen on quarterbacks battle and transfers

SEC media days: Dan Mullen on quarterbacks battle and transfers

ATLANTA — The Florida Gators are up this afternoon at SEC media days. A few highlights from an early session with coach Dan Mullen and offensive lineman Martez Ivey, defensive lineman Cece Jefferson and linebacker David Reese:Mullen had no...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock International is expanding across the pond. The Seminole Tribe-owned casino and hotel chain announced Tuesday that it will open a Hard Rock Hotel Dublin in 2020, its first hotel in Ireland. It will partner with Irish hotel company Tifco Lim...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

TAMPA — Tampa could welcome the arrival of more than 1,000 new shipbuilding jobs if Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards wins a major contract to build up to six Coast Guard polar icebreakers.The contract would mean filling Bollinger’s production faci...
Updated: 1 hour ago