Former IRS agent sent to prison for murder-for-hire plot

Former IRS agent sent to prison for murder-for-hire plot

Steven Martinez of Ramona, CA, used to be a successful CPA. With several big accounts, and the lavish lifestyle to prove it, the 51-year-old had it made—by stealing from his clients.

Back in 2011, Martinez was charged with tax fraud. Over a four-year period, he defrauded his clients out of $11 million by preparing phony returns that showed that they owed significant amounts of tax. He requested personal checks for the balances due, filed a second set of fake returns that showed little to no tax liability, and then used the excess money for his own means. These means included a large home in Ramona, a beach house in Mexico, a boat and access to a private jet.

But while recently out on bail, he cooked up a plot to kill four of the clients who would have been witnesses in that case.

He tried to hire a hit man, offering a cooperating witness for the FBI money and detailed dossiers to do the job. These dossiers held descriptions of the would-be victims’ homes, daily activities, living habits, when they walked the dog, and how to access their homes. He had carefully planned the murders, and suggested the FBI’s witness use a weapon with a silencer. Martinez, in a taped conversation, said that he’d give the hit man $100,000 if he “eliminated the lady in Rancho Santa Fe and the lady in La Jolla.”

The would-be hit man went to the FBI with the tape, and Martinez was charged and pleaded guilty for soliciting a crime of violence, witness tampering, mail fraud, filing false tax returns, Social Security fraud, identity theft and money laundering.

The former IRS agent was sentenced to nearly 24 years in prison on Friday, and ordered to pay more than $14 million in restitution to the IRS, the victims, and the California Franchise Tax Board.

8 Tips to Lower Your Taxes During Retirement

This post originally appeared on The Fiscal Times.

When you leave the workforce and give up a paycheck, life seems grand – endless free time, no more alarm clocks, and lower tax rates – or so it seems at first. Even if you’re raking in over a million dollars in retirement savings a year, you won’t have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and some states don’t tax such income either.

But those tax savings won’t get you very far.  As you start drawing Social Security checks and supplement them with tax-deferred retirement plan withdrawals and investment income, your taxable income can go up sharply. What really matters is not how much you have in retirement accounts, but what you’re left with after taxes.

Planning your income in retirement – and reducing your overall tax bill – is critical to making your money last. Here are eight ways to manage your tax bite after you leave the workforce.

1. Strategically withdraw from your IRA. 

Rules on tax-deferred retirement plans like IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s allow you to take distributions starting at age 59.5, and you must start withdrawing the required minimum by age 70.5 or face stiff penalty fees. It’s usually better to pull money out when your taxable income for the year will be lower, especially when the total stays under the 25-percent tax bracket (which starts at $36,250 for singles and $72,500 for married filing jointly in 2013), says William Reichenstein, investment management chair at Baylor University.

Being strategic means you’ll pay the 10- or 15-percent rate on those withdrawals. You might take out tax-deferred money, for example, in a year when you have a lot of deductions – when you’re paying high medical expenses, for example, or are making a large charitable contribution, which would significantly reduce your taxable income. For example, you might have one year when your income from a pension is $40,000, but you have medical expenses of $20,000; this would be an excellent time to withdraw from an IRA. If you know you’ll exceed $36,250 (or $72,500 for married couples), it’s best to stay under the next tax bracket. Find the 2013 tax bracket rates here.

2. Pay estimated taxes on your Social Security benefits.

Social Security income is taxable, depending on the amount of your “combined income,” which the government defines as your adjusted gross income, plus any non-taxable interest (interest earned on tax-free municipal bonds, for example), plus 50 percent of your Social Security benefits. For an individual, if your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000, you’ll pay normal income tax rates on up to 50 percent of your benefits; if it’s more than $34,000, you’ll pay tax on up to 85 percent. Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, says you can request that the Social Security Administration withhold those taxes from your checks, but it’s better to make estimated payments yourself because it’s common for combined income to fluctuate a lot, and the amount withheld would likely be too high or low.

3. Consider delaying your Social Security checks.

One benefit of waiting to collect Social Security until you’re older is that your checks will be larger. Though you can start collecting any time between the ages of 62 and 70, for every year you wait, your check will grow by roughly 6.25 percent, says Philadelphia-area financial planner Daniel White of Daniel White & Associates. But taxes also play into it.

In a paper last April for the Journal of Financial Planning, Baylor’s Reichenstein and a coauthor tested the effects of starting Social Security at different ages. They found that someone who retired in 2011 at age 62 with $700,000 in savings and started taking monthly Social Security checks of $1,125 that year would exhaust their portfolio in 30 years at a given spending level. But if they used their own assets to fund their early retirement and started taking their now-much-larger checks of $1,980 at age 70, their portfolio would last at least 40 years at that same spending level. This is in part because only 50 percent of your Social Security benefits count toward the combined-income threshold. Of course, all decisions like this are a gamble — if you die young, it would have been better to start taking Social Security earlier. However, if you have a surviving spouse, he or she would receive all or part of your benefit, depending on their age.

4. Give your children appreciated assets instead of cash.

If you’re planning to give money to the children or grandchildren, one way to do so while getting a tax benefit is instead of cash, give them a stock that’s grown since you bought it, says White. Of course, your family member will pay the capital gains tax when they sell the asset, so for both of you to benefit, the recipient should be in a lower tax bracket than you are – which is likely if you’re helping them out.

5. Convert your IRA to a Roth IRA. 

If you can afford to pay the taxes, start converting your IRA to a Roth IRA, says Matthew Curfman, certified financial planner at Richmond Brothers in Jackson, Michigan. Growing your money in a Roth and then being able to withdraw it tax free will protect you against future tax increases. Also, since there’s no mandatory withdrawal on a Roth, it makes an excellent long-term contingency fund – and any withdrawals don’t count in the combined-income formula used to tax Social Security benefits, notes David Littell, co-director of the American College of Financial Services’ Center for Retirement Income.

6. Make charitable contributions from your IRA. 

The New Year’s Day fiscal cliff deal resuscitated an expired provision for 2013 that allows people age 70.5 or older to donate up to $100,000 from their IRA to a qualified charity, without having to pay taxes on the transfer. That donation can help satisfy your required minimal distribution. You can’t beat that provision, Curfman says. If you donate $20,000 from your IRA to the charity, the nonprofit gets all of it. But if you withdraw $20,000 out of your IRA and then donate the cash, the IRS taxes it before you make the donation – so if the tax was $3,000, the charity gets only $17,000.

7. Raise the cost basis of your investments when your income is lower.

Low-income years in retirement are a great time to sell a stock that has appreciated and reinvest the gain in stock of a similar class, says Reichenstein. That’s because, under the fiscal cliff deal, the long-term capital gains rate is zero (yes, zero) on people whose income puts them in the 15-percent bracket or lower (up to $36,250 for a single filer and $72,500 for married filing jointly).

In years when you’re in one of those brackets, you can sell a stock you bought originally at $40,000 that’s now worth $50,000 and buy another stock worth $50,000. You’ve raised the cost basis of the stock by $10,000, reducing the taxes you’ll pay if you have to sell it in a year when you’re in the 25-percent or higher bracket. Use caution though, says Reichenstein: Make sure that $10,000 in gain doesn’t push your income for the year high enough that it would cause your combined income to rise to the point that your Social Security benefits are taxed at a higher rate.

8. Move to a tax-friendly state.

If you’re moving for retirement, consider taxes as part of your decision, says Diana Webb, assistant professor of finance at Northwood University. A report last September from Kiplinger identified Alaska, Nevada, and Wyoming as the three states with the most retirement-friendly tax laws. The worst include Ohio, California and New York.

Understanding Tax Liens

There are two four-letter-words in IRS parlance that can mean big trouble for a taxpayer who has unpaid tax debt. One of them is a tax levy, the other is a property tax lien.

What is a Tax Lien?

A federal tax lien is the government’s legal claim against your property when you neglect or fail to pay a tax debt. The lien protects the government’s interest in all your property, including real estate, personal property and financial assets. –

Not interchangeable with a levy, a federal tax lien is a document that alerts the general public that a taxpayer has unpaid tax debt.  It attaches to all of your property, both real and personal, but the IRS now becomes a not-so-silent partner if you try to dispose of it before the IRS gets its cut. A lien essentially protects the government’s ability to collect money.

The document filing occurs after the IRS:

  • Has determined that you actually owe the tax
  • Has sent you a Notice and Demand for Payment
  • Received no response to the Notice, or otherwise determined that you refused or neglected to pay the tax debt

A tax lien sticks like glue to all your assets — your home, your car, the cash value of your insurance policy — everything. Also, your ability to get more credit could be significantly hampered when creditors learn that you and the IRS are involved in a lien. Have a business with pending accounts receivable? The tax lien will attach to those as well.

How to Avoid a Property Tax Lien with Tax Resolution

Pay your taxes in full and on time! File your taxes before the IRS has the time, or the reason, to send an IRS rep out to file a tax lien against you at your local courthouse.

Easier said than done, right? Well, there are a few ways you can prevent a tax lien if you can’t pay your taxes on time.

  • DO NOT ignore any notices or letters the IRS sends.
  • DO respond quickly to any notices, either by phone, mail or fax. Wait too long and the IRS might feel you are trying to avoid paying the debt, and file a lien.
  • DO contact the IRS immediately if you believe the tax lien was filed in error.
  • DO arrange for an extension if you cannot pay your tax debt by April 15th.
  • DO set up an installment agreement with the IRS if you cannot pay the debt in one full payment. If the IRS knows that you have negotiated an installment plan, they will not file a lien against you. If you fail to pay on schedule, you’ll lose your credibility with the IRS and they’ll file a lien against you immediately.
  • DO contact a professional tax attorney for tax resolution if you are wary of working directly with the IRS. They can explain your options, your next steps, and help you set up any payment plans or extensions with the IRS. They can also help you file an appeal if a lien was filed erroneously.

Optima Tax Relief can help. If you owe IRS tax debt, have already received a Notice of Federal Tax Lien, or feel that a lien was filed against you wrongly, our tax attorneys will work to have your tax issues resolved once and for all.

A Tax Savings Tip Investors Need to Know

Via LearnVest By David Sterman for InvestingAnswers ~

Here’s another smart post from our friends at InvestingAnswers. Check it out: 

Updated: August 31, 2012

For active stock traders, how you navigate the intricate rules of the IRS can help to shelter your profits. If you’ve marked trading losses for the last year, the tax moves you make now will help limit your tax impact next year.

Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know.

Investors vs. Traders

The IRS tends to favor investors that buy and hold stocks for an extended period (at least one year). If you do, then you’ll be taxed at a very reasonable long-term capital gains rate of just 15%.

But stock traders have no such luck. These folks, who tend to hold on to stock for just days, weeks or a few months, are taxed at ordinary income tax rates. If you’re in a hightax bracket, that can really hurt. (On the other side of the spectrum, you don’t have to ai capital gains taxes at all if you are in the 10% or 15% tax bracket — i.e., less than $34,500 in adjusted gross income for single filers.)

But whether your losses are short-term or long-term, you can only deduct up to $3,000 from sour investments in any given year. Any losses beyond that level can be saved for the next year, where they’ll again (hopefully) be used to offset your winners. I owned a few major dot-com duds back in 2000 that eventually went bankrupt, and I spent the next five years partially sheltering my gains.

With the recent extension of the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2012, it’s increasingly likely that tax rates for the wealthiest earners will go up in 2013. As a point of reference, the current top tax rate is 35% (for single filers with adjusted gross incomes above $379,151), and during the Clinton administration the top tax rate was 39.6%. With the higher investment taxes expected to be headed our way, you may want to start harvesting your winners before the end of next year.

Capital Gains and Losses

When you sell an investment, it is classified as either a capital gain or a capital loss, and all capital gains and losses must be reported to the IRS, using the Schedule D form. However, starting with the 2011 tax year, the IRS added another wrinkle. The IRS now requires you to also fill out a new form — Form 8949 — in addition to Schedule D, which now looks like this…

But before you get to Schedule D, you have to address Form 8949. That form gives you lots of room to list each of your investments from the year, then you just need to tally up the totals from Form 8949 and place them in the proper spots on Schedule D, and you’re on your way. (For more information, check out “Eight Facts About New IRS Form 8949 and Schedule D” at

If you took a few losses during the year, don’t worry. You can use those capital losses to offset the money you made with your capital gains. Simply subtract the loss from the gain and you’ll only owe taxes on the difference. Someone with a $25,000 gain on a long-term investment and a $10,000 loss in a long-term holding will only have to pay taxes on $15,000.

Doing the Math

So how do you tally up a gain or a loss for a stock? On Form 8949, the IRS asks you to list…

  • A description of the asset (name of the company, how many shares you sold)
  • The date you acquired the asset
  • The date you sold the asset
  • The sales price (sales price x number of shares)
  • What you initially paid for the asset (purchase price x number of shares)
  • The capital gain or loss (sales price – purchase price)

This is when detailed recordkeeping becomes crucial. The IRS recommends keeping all forms you receive showing your investment income (e.g. Forms 1099-INT, Interest Income, and 1099-DIV, Dividends and Distributions).

Sometimes you’ll sell only some of that stock in the near term, and then sell the rest of it later on. I keep a spreadsheet that I update every time I buy or sell a stock. Keeping detailed records of your buy and sell prices will make it much easier to pull all of this together at tax time.

Time for a Wash

If you’ve been sitting on dud stocks from the stock market crash of 2008, but have an otherwise robust portfolio of winners, you may want to consider a “wash-sale” strategy.

Remember, though, there are certain constraints that surround this practice in order for it to be considered legal by the IRS. A wash sale occurs when an investor sells a security at a loss, then purchases the same or a substantially similar security within 30 days of the sale. The illegal part is when the investor claims the loss on his taxes as a deduction.

However, the IRS considers it a fresh investment if you wait 30 days before you buy that stock again. For example, if you sell 100 shares of XYZ Company for a $1,000 loss and plan to use this as a deduction on your taxes, you’ll need to wait 30 days before you can buy that stock back again, or that of a similar company.

You’ll want to look at this strategy and put it in place well before the year is over; many investors wait until December only to realize it’s too late. (Note that wash-sale rules apply even if you’re investing in options of an underlying stock.)

[Learn more about the wash sale rule in our wash-sale definition page.]

Taxable vs. Non-Taxable

Many investors ai to focus their investments in their retirement portfolios, which allow stocks to be bought and sold without triggering tax consequences in the near term. You should know that it’s best to stick with traditional stocks. Unusual investments such as Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) andReal Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are not considered stocks, and the IRS discourages you from putting them in a retirement portfolio. It’s not illegal, but it may trigger another layer of paperwork with a Form 990 (which enables you to exempt income tax from the investment).

You’ll also need to determine what kind of dividends you have received in the current tax year. Most dividends are “qualified,” which means that they are taxed at the capital gains rate of 15%. But if you hold a stock for less than 60 days, or they are simply disbursements from a mutual fund’s capital gains or are part of the normal payout of a REIT or an MLP, then the IRS sees it as ordinary income and will make you pay the full tax-bracket rate on the gains.

Even though tax day comes a bit late this year — April 16 — there’s no need to wait, especially if you have a refund coming. And it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s taxes — the investment moves you make now can have a huge impact on the taxes you’ll face in 2012.

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LearnVest is the leading lifestyle and personal finance website for women.

The post A Tax Savings Tip Investors Need to Know appeared first on Debt America.

Tax Relief Scams: How to Protect Yourself

Don’t fall victim to tax relief scams. Learn how to spot a scam and what to do. Thousands of people fall victim to tax scams every year, make sure it’s not you.

Unfortunately, the Tax Relief Industry has attracted circling vultures waiting to prey on those who are weakened by the threat of IRS action. You’ve probably seen the ads. You’ve heard the commercials. “Settle your tax debt for pennies on the dollar,” they claim. “We are the country’s largest tax resolution firm,” they explain. “We are a publicly traded corporation,” they proclaim. Well Enron was a very large publicly traded company as well, and they weren’t exactly trustworthy, were they? Some of these same firms have been sued by Attorney Generals for consumer fraud and theft. Others have over 1,000 complaints with the Better Business Bureau for their tax resolution scams.

Arm yourself with the tools necessary to defend against their self-serving actions. Start by informing yourself about some of the common tax relief scams below and reading our tips on how to protect yourself.

Top Tax Relief Scams

Tax Relief Scam #1 – Non-Refundable Upfront Payments Without Any Guarantees

The most common scam performed by these companies is to charge money upfront while promising to get results that they know are unpredictable, if not impossible, to achieve. The company may ask you to commit a very large sum of money upfront before an investigation is conducted or before the IRS side of the story is pulled (through the Master Transcript). These are the companies that are the sour apples in the industry because they are focused more on driving upfront revenue than actually helping their clients.

Tax Relief Scam #2 – Misrepresenting Potential Outcomes

Another common scam comes from aggressive salespeople who try to reel in clients by dangling anecdotal stories of ‘pennies on the dollar’ Offer in Compromise tax settlements. The reality is that very few taxpayers qualify for an Offer in Compromise (about  25% to 33% of applicants).

But the scam companies out there won’t tell you that. They may string you along and make you think you are being taken care of only to discover that, when all is said and done, you did not qualify for the Offer in Compromise. At which point the tax settlement scams company will conveniently assert that it was because the IRS did not approve it, and it was not their (the company’s) fault.

There are multiple factors the IRS considers in an Offer in Compromise application such as the taxpayer’s ability to pay, income, expenses and asset equity. The truth is that most taxpayers don’t qualify.

When you are dealing with a new tax resolution company, ask yourself; does the company make a thorough assessment of the factors above? Do they emphasize the importance of these qualifications? Do they make it clear that an Offer in Compromise is difficult to obtain? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may be dealing with a company who does not have your best interests in mind.

Tax Relief Scam #3 – Marketing Companies Posing as Service Providers

There are a lot of Companies that advertise tax relief services but do nothing more than sell the customer’s information to other service providers.

A consumer will be led to believe they are working directly with the company that is doing the marketing, but in actuality their information will be sold to other service providers or outsourced independent contractors.  The companies doing the marketing have no control over the quality of the product or the service levels given.  In the worst cases, they sign up a consumer, with no intention of servicing the client whatsoever.

Tax Relief Scam #4 – The Outright Fraudsters

Unfortunately, there are some firms who have outright cheated and stolen from their clients. These are the firms that are being targeted and shut down by the Attorney Generals and who have tarnished the industry.  In these cases, the unscrupulous companies will enroll many clients into a program and collect their money without providing adequate services. Some don’t even send the necessary paperwork to the IRS.

As soon as there are too many complaints or upset consumers, the Company will simply change their name and start preying on consumers all over again. Adding insult to injury, many of these companies don’t provide refunds and leave people even further in debt.

Tax Relief Scam Companies Charged for Fraud in Recent Years

Tax Master’s

TaxMasters-Tax Relief ScamsOn March 30, 2012, Tax Master’s was ordered along with its founder, Patrick Cox, to pay $195 million on charges that it defrauded customers nationwide. A few weeks prior, the tax relief firm filed for bankruptcy “in an apparent effort to avoid the state’s enforcement action,” explained the Texas Attorney general.

Tax Master’s unlawfully misled customers about their service contract terms, failed to disclose its no-refunds policy, and falsely claimed that the firm’s employees would immediately begin work on a case – despite the fact that Tax Master’s did not actually start to work on a case until its customers paid in full for services, even if that delayed response meant taxpayers missed significant IRS deadlines.

Roni “Tax Lady” Deutch

ronideuch Tax Relief Scams

In August 2010, former tax attorney Roni Deutch was hit with a $34 million lawsuit for allegedly defrauding thousands of customers seeking tax advice. Then California Attorney General Jerry Brown (now Governor of California) accused her of airing misleading advertisements about her services and engaging in heavy-handed sales techniques to pressure clients. Included in the allegations were charges that Deutch’s firm not only did not provide the services promised to clients but that she refused to refund fees.

An order was issued in August of 2011 prohibiting Deutch from destroying any evidence related to the case. According to the current attorney general of California, Kamala D. Harris, however, Deutch began shredding documents immediately. The attorney general’s office alleges in its complaint that Deutch shredded nearly 2,000 pounds of the firm’s documents, or about 200,000 pages the day after the order was issued.

J.K. Harris

jkharris Tax Relief ScamsThe company has been sued by a number of U.S. Attorneys General after receiving numerous consumer complaints settlement of a class-action lawsuit that had been brought against JK Harris by the Attorneys General of 18 states, including the AG of South Carolina, home to JK Harris’ headquarters.about misleading business and advertising practices. In July 2007 a South Carolina judge approved a $6 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that had been brought against JK Harris by the Attorneys General of 18 states, including the AG of South Carolina, home to JK Harris’ headquarters.

The suit claimed that JK Harris & Company was charging customers fees for resolving back tax debts, but then failed to deliver on their promises, and engaged in deceptive marketing and advertising practices, such as promoting that their regional offices were staffed by tax experts when they were often only sales representatives.

American Tax Relief

tax relief scamThe FTC filed charges against American Tax Relief in September 2010. The defendants allegedly defrauded consumers out of a whopping $100 million during a short period of time in business! A summary judgement in favor of the FTC found that American Tax Relief falsely claimed they already had significantly reduced the tax debts of thousands of people and falsely told individual consumers they qualified for tax resolution programs that would significantly reduce their tax debts.

In February 2013, the defendants were found personally liable and settled  the matter under an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. The settlement order imposes a $103.3 million judgment against ATR, Hahn, and Joo HyunPark.  It also imposes judgments of $18 million and $595,000, respectively, against Young Soon Park and Il Kon Park, Joo Park’s parents, who were found by the court to have received significant sums from the scheme’s earnings.The judgments will be suspended once the defendants and relief defendants have surrendered assets that total more than $15 million, including cash, a home in Beverly Hills and a condo in Los Angeles, jewelry and gold items and a 2005 Ferrari.

How to Protect Yourself

Do Your Research

Thankfully we now live in a world with Google and it’s very easy to find out if a firm is one of the good guys or bad guys.  To find out if the firm you are dealing with is trustworthy just look them up through the Better Business Bureau or other similar sites. Below are some of the best places to do your research.

1)      Better Business Bureau (BBB) –

2)      Rip Off Report –

3) –

Ask The Right Questions

Do you require upfront payments for services?

Firms that make you pay for their services upfront should be avoided. These are the most common tax relief scams. The reputable firms in this industry will be paid their fees after they have rendered their services. Some firms will include a nominal “discovery fee” for them to assign a tax professional to your case and do the research necessary to provide their recommended course of action.  This is preferable to working with a firm that assesses all payments due upfront without knowing the specifics of your case.

What is your refund policy?

If you’re still considering working with a firm that is charging for their services upfront, you’ll want to at least work with a firm that has a formal refund policy. If they are not able to deliver what they claim, you’ll be able to get some or all of your money back.

Do you have any guarantees?

Ask them to put their money where their mouth is. A reputable firm will be willing to guarantee their performance.

Do you service your own clients?

Many firms are just marketing affiliates taking a cut for referring clients to larger backend companies. Ideally, you’ll want to work with a company that services their own clients with an in-house team of CPA’s and tax negotiators.

About Optima Tax Relief

Comprised of Tax Professionals with over 25 years of experience, Optima Tax Relief is a full-service Tax Resolution firm that can handle almost any IRS or State Tax Issue. We are one of the few large tax relief companies to be accredited with the Better Business Bureau.

Optima Tax Relief Our most important asset is our clients, and our team is driven to achieve optimal results while providing a professional customer service experience. Every client is matched with their own, personal, designated Case Manager that helps navigate their file to the most beneficial resolution possible, to help ensure your success.

Our Immediate Action team is on hand to provide quick representation and answers for clients that are impacted by garnishments, bank levies, liens and many other challenges.

Additionally, we don’t assess resolution fees upfront until we’ve had a chance to perform an in-depth investigation into your tax issues with the IRS. At that time, we’ll let you know our estimated fees but you won’t pay until we get the work done. Furthermore, we stand behind our work with a 15-Day Money Back Satisfaction Guarantee on any fees assess for the professional investigation process.

Please don’t fall for any tax relief scams. If you have an issue with the IRS, contact us today to talk to a professional tax relief advisor you can trust.

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