Attorney Filer of ADA Lawsuits Pleads Guilty to Filing False Tax Returns For Not Reporting Disability Lawsuit Settlement Income

November 29, 2022

A California attorney known for his filing of thousands of disability discrimination lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) with himself as the plaintiff plead guilty November 29 to filing a false tax return on which he underreported the income he earned from many of those lawsuits. Aside from the enjoyment many businesses victimized by the defendant’s or other similar disability lawsuits may experience over seeing the defendant get his own comeuppance, the prosecution and the plea also provide important reminders for businesses paying ADA or other settlements to applicants or former employees.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Scott Norris Johnson owned and operated Disabled Access Prevents Injury Inc (DAPI), a legal services corporation. A quadriplegic and an attorney, Johnson filed more than 4,000 lawsuits in the Eastern District of California and elsewhere under the ADA and related California statutes, naming himself as the plaintiff against businesses he claimed were not in compliance with state and federal disability access laws first using DAPI, and later a law firm,

Under the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, payments related to lawsuit settlements or awards are taxable unless paid on account of personal physical injury or physical sickness. Johnson, who worked as an attorney at the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) earlier in his career, was required to report the taxable portion of the lawsuit settlements and awards he received. He nonetheless intentionally underreported this income on his 2012, 2013, and 2014 tax returns. By understating the lawsuit settlements and awards, Johnson and DAPI paid little to no income tax for tax years 2012, 2013 and 2014. Johnson caused a loss to the IRS of more than $250,000.

Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison for filing a false tax return. He also faces also faces a period of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The prosecution and subsequent plea highlight the taxability of disability and certain other settlements and the willingness of the Justice Department and IRS to prosecute individuals and businesses failing to fulfill obligations to recognize and report those payments as income for federal tax purposes.

Businesses and their legal counsel entering into settlements or otherwise making payments to employees or applicants under the ADA or other taxable settlements generally should use care to properly report taxable amounts as income to the recipient. For payments made pursuant to a settlement agreement, the settlement agreement generally should provide both that the employer is authorized to deduct and withhold amounts the employer believes may be due from the employee for taxes as well as obligate the employee to report and pay any additional taxes due on the payment.

Obviously, the business also needs to ensure it properly reports and pays its required share of any employment taxes on the payments. Employees should confirm the current tax rules prior to making any agreement or payment to avoid mistakes.

Businesses also should keep in mind many other developments could impact the interpretation and enforcement of settlements and their resulting responsibilities. Changes to trade secret, noncompete, arbitration, voluntariness and other requirements for release of claims, arbitration, scope of release and other developments could materially affect the effectiveness of previously used settlement language. Wise business leaders will seek qualified legal advice and assistance with their settlements.

For Help With Comments, Investigations Or Other Needs

If your organization would like to learn more about the concerns discussed in this update or seeks assistance auditing, updating, administering or defending its human resources, compensation, benefits, corporate ethics and compliance practices, or other performance related concerns, please contact management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

An attorney Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized for work helping organizations management people, operations and risk as  a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, a “Top Woman Lawyer,” “Top Rated Lawyer,” and “LEGAL LEADER™” in Labor and Employment Law and Health Care Law; a “Best Lawyers” in “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law.”

For 35 years, Ms. Stamer’s work has focused on advising and assisting businesses and business leaders with these and other employment and other staffing, employee benefit, compensation, risk, performance and compliance management and other operational solutions and concerns. Her experience includes helping management both manage performance and manage legal risk and compliance.  While helping businesses define and manage the conduct and performance of their employees, contractors and vendors, she also assists employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, leave, and other labor and employment laws, advises and defends businesses against labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, fraud and other regulatory compliance and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, SEC,  Federal Trade Commission, HUD, HHS, DOD, Departments of Insurance, and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer also speaks, coaches management and publishes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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New IRS’ 2009 “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams List Invites Whistleblower Claims Against Employers, Others Engaged In Listed Transactions

April 14, 2009

The release yesterday (April 13, 2009) by the Internal Revenue Service of its 2009 “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams List reminds businesses of the need to act to minimize exposures to tax related whistleblower or other retaliation claims by employees and other service providers that allege the potential involvement of the business in tax scams or other improper tax transactions.

 

Businesses face whistleblower, tax fraud prosecution, additional tax and penalty liability and other sanctions for involvement in tax shelters or other tax schemes.  Employees and other service provider reports to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are the leading means through which the IRS identifies and proves fraudulent tax activities.

 

Yesterday’s IRS announcement of its 2009 “dirty dozen” list of tax scams heightens whistleblower risks for businesses by encouraging employees and others who may have knowledge of a business or other taxpayer’s involvement in these or other prohibited tax practices to report their suspicions to the IRS and sharing instructions on how to report suspected tax fraud to the IRS as a whistleblower.  As part of these instructions, the announcement notes that “[w]histleblowers also may provide allegations of fraud to the IRS and may be eligible for a reward.”

 

The 2009 “dirty dozen” list of tax scams warns businesses about getting involved in 12 tax transactions that the IRS views as likely to create tax fraud and whistleblower risks. The tax schemes that made the 2009 Dirty Dozen List include:

  • Hiding Income Offshore
  • Filing False or Misleading Forms
  • Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions
  • Return Preparer Fraud
  • Making Frivolous Arguments 
  • Making False Claims for Refund and Requests for Abatement
  • Abusive Retirement Plans
  • Disguised Corporate Ownership
  • Zero Wages
  • Misuse of Trusts
  • Fuel Tax Credit Scams

Taxpayers participating in the 2009 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams and other tax transactions listed as tax scams by the IRS risk exposure to additional taxes and penalties, prosecution for tax fraud, and potential whistleblower claims.  The Dirty Dozen list singles out for special attention some of the many tax transactions that the IRS views as tax shelters or tax fraud.  Depending on the nature of a business and its tax and compensation activities, businesses also may need to be concerned about scrutiny by the IRS for involvement in various other types of transactions that the IRS has identified as suspect. The IRS is urging U.S. businesses and other taxpayers to avoid participation in these common schemes.

 

Businesses engaged or accused of engaging in these or other transactions listed as tax scams or tax shelters by the IRS should exercise caution to confirm the appropriateness of the proposed transaction, to document their investigation of allegations of improper tax activities.  For profit and non-profit businesses should include appropriate tax compliance oversight in their internal controls and federal sentencing guideline compliance programs.  Businesses should review their activities in light of lists of IRS abusive transactions, should evaluate whether any of their transactions may be subject to scrutiny by the IRS, and take other appropriate steps to mitigate their exposure to prosecution for tax fraud, to tax related whistleblower liability and other risks.   Businesses also should exercise care when dealing with employees or service providers who make allegations that the business may be involved in improper tax activities.   Businesses also need to be prepared to demonstrate that they have not retaliated against individuals who report suspected tax fraud.  The best defense to retaliation claims is a consistent, well documented legitimate performance and discipline record.  Businesses should strengthen and consistently apply their employee performance and discipline processes to improve performance and deter whistleblower or other retaliation judgments.  As part of this process, businesses also should adopt and enforce policies requiring employees and other service providers to report suspected tax or other compliance concerns, administer documented processes for receiving and investigating allegations of potential fraud or other noncompliance, and should document their conclusions and any corrective actions in response to these investigations.

 

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, and other members of Curren Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with assisting establish and administer employment, corporate compliance, internal and external fraud and other controls; to investigate potential fraud or other misconduct; to defend employment, whistleblower, Federal or state criminal or civil investigations, audits and prosecutions and to address other employment, employee benefits and corporate compliance matters.  If your organization needs assistance with assessing or managing its risk management and compliance responsibilities or liabilities under health care, employment, environmental, antitrust, securities or other federal or state laws, wishes to inquire about compliance audit or training or other services; or would like to review or engage and experience of Ms. Stamer, or other Curren Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402;  or see CTTLegal.com or CynthiaStamer.com.

More Information

We hope that this information is useful to you. You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources at CynthiaStamer.com For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see http://cynthiastamer.com/human_resources.asp or contact Ms. Stamer directly. If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at CynthiaStamer.com.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog at https://slphrbenefitsupdate.wordpress.com.