The federal and state governments have vested interests in convicting people of tax crimes. By doing so, they can issue fines, order restitution and send a message to others that these types of violations can be grounds for legal action. Tax violations can be complicated, which is why government and law enforcement agencies spare little expense when it comes to investigating and attempting to convict someone; and they want to be sure their efforts pay off.
But there is a fine and distinct line between tax crimes and tax errors. In a Sept. 12 blog post, we explored a case involving a Minnesota man who pleaded guilty to a tax crime. That case involved behaviors that supported a conviction. However, in similar cases, the details uncovered in an investigation may ultimately show that a tax inconsistency was the result of a mistake, not fraud.
The difference between a crime and a mistake essentially boils down to intent. It is not against the law to make a mistake when filing taxes. Missing deadlines, forgetting pieces of information or misrepresenting income is not necessarily grounds for criminal charges; but charges may be filed if an investigation into these errors shows that a person did these things on purpose.
In the case we discussed in the previously mentioned blog post, the man pleaded guilty to not filing his taxes in a timely manner or at all for several years. These actions by themselves may not support a conviction, but an investigation that reveals a history of violations or suspicious financial transactions can certainly lead authorities to pursue a conviction.
Facing tax crime accusations and defending yourself against government and law enforcement agencies can be very frightening and overwhelming. This is why it can be so important to work with an attorney if you are under investigation for tax violations. Every person has the right to defend against charges, and doing so with the help of an attorney can help people avoid or minimize exposure to serious penalties.