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TaxBuzz Top 5 - Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced to 25 Years, JP Morgan Warns of Stock "Flash Crash" & More

TaxBuzz Top 5 - Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced to 25 Years, JP Morgan Warns of Stock "Flash Crash" & More

Each Friday, TaxBuzz brings you the top five tax and accounting headlines you need to know from the workweek. We know life can get busy and you don't always have time to scroll through your news feed to stay informed.

We weed through all of the week's stories to showcase the most important updates in the tax and accounting world.

1. Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Credit: Michael M. Santiago / Staff / Getty Images

In December 2022, former cryptocurrency wunderkind, Sam Bankman-Fried, was arrested in the Bahamas following the stunning collapse of his FTX trading platform and hedge fund. Then, in March 2023, Bankman-Fried was accused of paying a Chinese official a $40 million bribe to unfreeze assets held in China by his Alameda Research hedge fund.

Now, Bankman-Fried has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for orchestrating a massive fraud scheme that led to the collapse of FTX. The 32-year-old was convicted of fraud and conspiracy following a high-profile trial in November of last year. Bankman-Fried's downfall marks a stark contrast to his previous success, which included high-profile endorsements from celebrities like Tom Brady and Stephen Curry.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who presided over the case, said he imposed such a harsh sentence because “there is a risk that this man will be in position to do something very bad in the future. And it’s not a trivial risk at all.” In addition to the lengthy prison term, Fast Company reports that Bankman-Fried was ordered to forfeit over $11 billion in ill-gotten gains. Prosecutors argued for a harsh sentence, citing the significant financial losses incurred by customers, investors, and lenders, totaling over $10 billion.

For his part, Bankman-Fried offered a "rambling" apology during the sentencing hearing, and defense attorney Marc Mukasey alleged that Bankman-Fried's actions were "misunderstood." Nonetheless, the court's decision reflects the gravity of his crimes and the impact on his many victims.

2. JP Morgan Warns of Potential Stock Market "Flash Crash"

In the closing trading session of March and the first quarter, major stock indexes boasted impressive returns, according to a new Forbes report. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged by 5%, equivalent to a gain of 2,000 points, while both the S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq soared by 11% each.

Notably, all three indexes reached record highs, with the S&P poised for its best first-quarter return since 2019 and its second consecutive quarter of double-digit percentage gains since 2011-12. However, amid this rally, concerns loom over a potential damaging drawdown, as highlighted by top strategists. JPMorgan Chase’s Dubravko Lakos-Bujos warned of the possibility of a “flash crash,” citing the high degree of crowding in the market.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs strategists cautioned about the market’s high concentration in technology stocks, which could exacerbate a major selloff scenario. Despite the rally, historical data suggests inevitable speed bumps ahead, with the S&P's maximum intra-year decline in 2024 being the lowest on record since 1928.

3. IRS Has Investigated Nearly $9 Billion in COVID Fraud in Four Years

Credit: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Four years after the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unveiled updated figures showcasing the investigative efforts of its Criminal Investigation (CI) division. The law enforcement arm of the tax agency has looked into 1,644 cases involving tax and money laundering linked to COVID-related fraud, amounting to nearly $9 billion. Over half of this sum stems from cases initiated in the past year alone.

These cases involve various criminal activities, including the illicit acquisition of loans, credits, and payments designated for American workers, families, and small businesses under CARES Act provisions. IRS-CI's efforts have resulted in indictments against 795 individuals, with 373 individuals sentenced to an average of 34 months in federal prison, marking a 98.5% conviction rate.

Two notable recent cases are the 10-year sentence of Rami Saab in Long Island, New York for PPP loan fraud, and the 94-month sentence of Toledo, Ohio resident, Terrence L. Pounds, who defrauded the Small Business Association (SBA) in multiple ways.

IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said, "“The work by IRS Criminal Investigation provides a vital role in protecting against fraud and serves a key part in the agency’s wider efforts to ensure fairness in the nation’s tax system."

4. New Yorkers Owe $880 Million in Unpaid Property Taxes This Fiscal Year

The escalation in unpaid property taxes among New Yorkers has raised significant concerns, especially with forecasts indicating a staggering surge of over 30% to more than $880 million by the fiscal year's end in June, compared to figures from three years prior.

Per Bloomberg, the potential implications of these unpaid tax bills extend beyond monetary values, as nearly half of the city's tax revenue originates from property tax collections. According to Preston Niblack, New York City's Finance Commissioner, the issue is indicative of a perceived lack of consequences for delinquency. Niblack said this trend must be addressed by officials to prevent its continuance. The expiration of a tax lien sales program in March 2022, left unaddressed by the City Council, is cited as a contributing factor, providing delinquent property owners with limited incentive to fulfill their obligations.

Efforts are underway within the city's Department of Finance to introduce legislation aimed at reauthorizing tax-lien sales, albeit with provisions safeguarding homeowners against foreclosure or eviction. Since property taxes comprise a significant portion of the NYC's tax revenue, addressing delinquency issues is key to maintaining economic stability and ensuring equity in tax enforcement.

5. Tax Loophole Leads to Higher Airline Bag Fees

Credit: Viaframe/Getty Images

A new CNN report notes that five out of the six biggest US airlines have raised their checked baggage fees since January 2024. This recent surge among major US airlines may seem puzzling, but a closer look reveals a significant factor hidden within the U.S. tax code. Under current regulations, airlines are subject to a 7.5% tax on ticket prices for domestic flights, excluding charges for baggage if they are separately delineated from the transportation cost.

This tax loophole allows airlines to save substantially on taxes by itemizing baggage fees, ultimately reducing their tax burden. While this may not seem like a huge savings, the cumulative impact is substantial, especially considering the massive number of passengers and trips involved. In 2023 alone, airlines avoided paying approximately half a billion dollars in taxes by itemizing bag fees.

Consequently, bag fees have become a lucrative revenue stream for airlines, with total collections surpassing $7 billion in recent years. It is important to note, however, that the IRS doesn’t apply the 7.5% tax to international flights that go over 225 miles beyond United States borders. Instead, there are fixed international departure and arrival taxes. 

Which headline this week most interests you?

Feature Image Credit: Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images

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Rebekah Barton

Rebekah Barton

Rebekah's search engine optimization career began completely by accident as a college student. Over the course of her career so far, she has "grown up" with the SEO industry, from writing content while juggling classes to managing her own teams of writers and overseeing SEO strategy in subsequent roles. She is excited to bring her passion for high-quality content to CountingWorks, Inc.

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