Widow avoids jail time and probation in sentencing for offshore account tax evasion

BY ALISTAIR M. NEVIUS, J.D.

Wealthy Palm Beach resident Mary Estelle Curran was sentenced to one year of probation in federal district court Thursday, following her guilty plea to charges of tax evasion. However, Judge Kenneth Ryskamp almost immediately revoked that sentence, reportedly telling the prosecutors that he thought the prosecution had been unnecessary and suggesting to Curran’s attorney that he should seek a presidential pardon for his client.

“She was on probation for about five seconds,” Curran’s lawyer, Roy Black, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

Curran’s legal troubles stemmed from her failure to pay income taxes on $43 million held in banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. She filed a voluntary disclosure with the IRS, but it came after the Justice Department had received her name from Swiss bank UBS and had already begun an investigation, and so she was no longer eligible for the offshore voluntary disclosure program.

On Jan. 8, Curran pleaded guilty to two counts of willfully making and subscribing a false income tax return for tax years 2006 and 2007, and she agreed to pay an almost $21.7 million penalty (Curran, No. 12-cr-80206 (S.D. Fla. 1/8/13) (plea agreement)). At Thursday’s sentencing, she faced up to six years in prison plus one year of probation and a fine, although the government, in her plea agreement, recommended a 37-month sentence.

The sentencing memorandum Curran’s attorney filed with the court described her as a 79-year-old woman who lives “a quiet life with few trappings,” living frugally both when her husband was still alive and after his death, but who gives generously to the community. The judge questioned why Curran was prosecuted in the first place: “Based on these facts, did it ever occur to the government to dismiss these charges?” he asked in court, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.

The IRS says it has successfully collected more than $5 billion from its 2009 and 2011 voluntary disclosure programs (IR-2012-64). Earlier this year it announced the launch of a third program designed to help people hiding offshore accounts get current with their taxes in the United States. At the same time, it has been aggressively pursuing criminal prosecutions against taxpayers who do not voluntarily disclose their offshore accounts.

Alistair M. Nevius ( anevius@aicpa.org ) is the JofA’s editor-in-chief, tax.

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