Sure, NYU has produced lots of fancy-pants tax lawyers. And many high-powered big-school tax accountants haunt the cubicles of the Final Four accounting firms. But if driving the IRS to distraction is a mark of tax distinction, an obscure Kansas City attorney/CPA, formerly of Grant Thornton and Coopers and Lybrand, is a true tax all-star.
Or was. A federal judge this week made it inconvenient for GT alum Allen R. Davison to pursue his tax practice by enjoining him from marketing some of his most creative ideas:
Davison is hereby enjoined from organizing, establishing, promoting, selling, offering for sale or helping to organize, establish, promote, sell or offer for sale any tax plan, as addressed herein, involving sham parallel C management companies, sham 412(i) plans, sham flock contracts or any other illegal tax scheme, plan, or device, even if not specifically addressed herein. Additionally, Davison shall not organize, establish, promote, sell, offer for sale or assist in any financial or tax related arrangement without submitting in writing to an IRS designee, a detailed plan explaining the financial or tax arrangement and all steps necessary for the arrangement to be legal under the tax code.
That would all be rather inconvenient for a practitioner. Why are the feds so down on Mr. Davison? From the injunction order:
Davison’s numerous, complex, ever-changing, tax-fraud schemes and his deliberate efforts to disguise his true involvement in the promotion of these tax-fraud schemes have required the IRS to expend a “staggering” amount of resources on discovering and combating these schemes. If this outlay of resources continues – and it almost certainly will continue in the absence of an injunction barring Davison from offering tax advice without significant restraint, then these resources will not be available to service honest tax paying Americans. Nor will these resources be available to investigate other promoters of tax-fraud schemes.
What were these “schemes”? Some of them used “management fees” to shift income from taxable businesses to sham S corporations owned by tax-exempt ESOPs or Roth IRAs. Others involved improper pension plans. But good old Midwestern farm ingenuity was behind what may be his most creative plan:
Davison drafts purported flock contracts for his clients. (Tr. 398:21-399:4). He argues that by executing these agreements, his clients become farmers, who are eligible to claim deductions for the cost of purchasing a flock of layer hens during the tax year in which that cost is incurred, pursuant to Revenue Ruling 60-191. (Tr. 412:10-20; PX 165). That revenue ruling provides “that farmers employing the cash method of accounting may deduct the cost of baby chicks and egg laying hens in the year of payment therefor, provided such method is consistently followed and clearly reflects income.”
The judge found that Mr. Davison has an overly-inclusive view of what “farming” means. The judge said that a guy with dirty boots who actually fed and raised chicks might be a farmer, but a “self-employed insurance salesman,” for example, who loaned money to a real farmer, did not.
There are many fascinating threads here, but let’s just hit three for now:
• Mr. Davison began selling many of these ideas while working for Grant Thornton, and according to the court order, marketed them through a network of CPA firms set up by GT alums. Networking pays!
• The elaborate system of preparer registration, testing and continuing education that IRS Commissioner Shulman is ramming through will spend enormous resources making honest and competent preparers jump through hoops; they would have done nothing to stop Mr. Davison. Shulman’s plan will spend money on driving honest preparers crazy with paperwork rather than chasing scammers.
• The cash-basis chicken flock technique that is outrageous for an insurance salesman is hunky-dory when done by a wealthy farmer. Because America Needs Farmers!