A major plot point in the classic film Scarface is protagonist Tony Montana’s arrest for tax evasion and money laundering. And Al Capone committed tax fraud, both in real life and as a movie character in The Untouchables. These days, the key players in bringing these crooks to justice are professionals who are skilled in providing convincing evidence of tax crimes. Despite stereotypes, a career in tax can be exciting, fun, and dare we say sexy. To ensure its Master of Taxation students are exposed to that career path, Robinson will introduce a new elective, Tax Crimes & Forensics, in 2022.
“Drug dealers and money launderers don’t pay their taxes,” said course instructor Mark Mesler. “We’re going to talk about stuff we don’t cover in a typical tax class.”
Mesler brings a ton of experience to the classroom. He just retired from EY, where he served as a tax partner for more than 21 years. Before that he spent 12 years with Internal Revenue Service Chief Counsel, where he worked on civil and criminal tax cases. When it comes to tax crimes, Mesler has been there and done that: brothel seizures, gambling, and Camaros with trunks full of cash.
“Nearly every personal and business transaction has tax implications. Sometimes the implications can also be criminal,” Mesler said. “This class will help students see what’s really going on through a government lens beyond the pretty silk-stocking practice of tax.”
The course will comprise four modules. In the first one, students will watch a movie like Scarface or The Untouchables and episodes of the documentary series American Greed, and provide analyses of the tax crimes as well as the likelihood of conviction. Students also will explore case studies, such as United States v. Fern. The gist: Fern, a tax accountant, lied to an IRS agent about a false charitable contribution filed as a deduction on a client’s tax return. Fern was charged with a felony and served jail time.
“The client told him it wasn’t a good deduction, but Fern still provided a phony document,” Mesler said. “I tell my students that lying to an IRS auditor is a crime, so always tell the truth.”
Throughout the remaining class modules, students will explore criminal tax charges, learn the methods of proof, and study forfeiture law and jeopardy assessments. By the end, students will be able to warn future clients about the implications of certain conduct and advise those who may have crossed the line. They will learn to govern their own conduct as well.
“There’s a pretty good chance that, as a tax professional, you’ll be retained at some point to assist a lawyer in a criminal tax matter, so it’s good to know what to expect,” Mesler said. “Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a student from the class went on to become an IRS special agent. It’s a pretty exciting job.”