Monday, October 16, 2006

Rollin' (Part II)

In August, I commented on the creative tax planning efforts of Congressman Gary Miller (R. CA). Representative Miller rolled over the profits from real estate sales not once, but twice, pursuant to the provisions of IRC §1033. He claimed that the properties were sold under threat of condemnation, even though he faced no actual threat of condemnation. To bolster his reporting position, he asked Monrovia, California to provide him with "a letter that talked about eminent domain."

Last week, on similar facts, the Sixth Circuit, in U.S. v. Harris, affirmed a conviction for tax evasion. The pertinent portions of the opinion (which begin on page 77 of the slip opinion) should make for chilling reading by Rep. Miller:
The evidence against Kotula [one of the defendants] on the tax-evasion count is not overwhelming, either in absolute terms or compared to the conspiracy evidence against him. But it is sufficient to support his tax evasion conviction under the very deferential standard for reviewing jury verdicts.

In 1998, Kotula sold his own land to Ashtabula County, Ohio for $425,000. The sale contract recited that Kotula was selling the land to avoid eminent domain. Kotula made a $382,000 profit on the sale, on which he owed federal income tax of $82,000. The parties agree that Kotula did not list the profit on his 1998 federal income tax return.

The government charged that Kotula's failure to report the land-sale gain in that year constituted willful attempted evasion. Kotula's defense is that 26 U.S.C. § 1033 allows a taxpayer to defer gain from a sale made under threat of eminent domain if they use the proceeds to buy replacement property within a certain period of time. As Agent Fisher testified, if the taxpayer meets the requirements, he is not required to report the gain in the first year following the sale.

The government alleges that "several Ashtabula County officials" testified that the land-sale agreement's references to eminent domain were a "sham," but the government fails to point to particular testimony using that word. The government relies on the testimony of current and former county commissioners that the county never suggested that it was considering using eminent domain to take Kotula's land, that it was Kotula alone who insisted on inserting the eminent-domain language, that the commissioners knew eminent domain was unpopular and so would not use it lightly, and that the county had probably not used eminent domain in the twenty years prior to the county's purchase of Kotula's land.
* * * * *
On this record, a reasonable factfinder could find that it was not reasonable to fear eminent domain under the circumstances. With or without such a finding, the factfinder could conclude that Kotula did not actually have a good-faith belief (reasonable or otherwise) that his property was threatened by eminent domain so as to trigger the deferred-reporting provision of IRC §1033.
Incredibly, as near as I can determine, Miller is running unopposed.

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