Court Affirms 9-Year Sentence For Conspiracy To Defraud US Of Taxes

US v. Thorson: Thorson, an attorney, was involved in a complex scheme to take advantage of a charitable giving tax loophole involving cemetery plots. Over three years, the scheme netted almost $10 million in fraudulent tax deductions. Thorson came up with the legal mechanics of the scheme. For his income from the scheme, Thorson concealed his funds as loans and thus did not report it on tax returns. Then, when the IRS came to audit the partnership running the scheme, Thorson created false documents to thwart the investigation. As a result of all this, Thorson was convicted of conspiring to defraud the United States of tax income. At sentencing, Thorson was hit with enhancements for a leadership role in the offense and obstruction of justice, among others. He was sentenced to 108 months in prison.

On appeal, Thorson challenged both the procedural and substantive grounds, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected. Procedurally, Thorson first challenged the imposition of the leadership enhancement, arguing that the evidence did not support characterizing his role in that way. The court disagreed, noting that his role was "especially significant" because of the deployment of his legal skills, that he was "critical to the recruitment of investors," and that he supervised and directed much of the paperwork needed to complete the scheme. Second, Thorson challenged the obstruction of justice enhancement, based on false documents provided to the grand jury. Thorson argued that this conduct was part of the offense of conviction and, at any rate, already covered by another enhancement for sophisticated concealment. The court disagreed, holding that the obstructive conduct continued into the criminal investigation and the enhancement was not duplicative. Finally, Thorson argued that his sentence was substantively unreasonable when compared to those received by his codefendants and others similarly situated. The court disagreed, holding that the sentence was reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances.

Judge Gregory dissented, arguing that the imposition of the two Guideline enhancements was error. He argued that the district court "took Thorson's conduct as a personal affront" and "Thorson's occupation weighed heavily on the court's mind." Regardless, the "majority today endorses" that approach "and punishes Thorson on no evidentiary basis."