Federal Court Prohibits Florida Tax Preparer from Preparing Tax Returns for Others
TAMPA, FLORIDA – A federal court has barred a Tampa, Florida, man from preparing federal tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today.
The civil injunction order, to which Octavio Cruz consented, was signed by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich of the Middle District of Florida. The order also bars the business Cruz was operating, Advantage Accounting Corp., from continuing to prepare tax returns.
In August 2014, the United States filed a complaint to enjoin Cruz and Advantage Accounting Corp. from preparing returns for others. According to the complaint, Cruz prepared returns that unlawfully understated income tax liabilities and overstated refunds by fabricating or exaggerating deductions and tax credits his customers were not eligible to take. Cruz’s practices included fabricating Schedule C (Profit or Loss From Business) losses for non-existent businesses and falsely claiming child care and residential energy credits for which the customers were not eligible and did not incur. The suit alleges that Cruz also prepared returns that falsely claimed American Opportunity Credits for taxpayers who did not incur qualified education expenses or go to college. Altogether, the government alleged that loss to the U.S. Treasury from Cruz’s activities may be in the millions of dollars.
The injunction requires Cruz to provide the government with a list of all customers for whom he has prepared federal tax returns or claims for refund since Jan. 1, 2012.
Return preparer fraud is one of the IRS’s Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2015. The IRS has some tips on its website for choosing a tax preparer, and has launched a free directory of federal tax preparers. In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers and tax scheme promoters. Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department’s website. An alphabetical listing of persons enjoined from preparing returns and promoting tax schemes can be found on here. If you believe that one of the enjoined persons or businesses may be violating an injunction, please contact the Tax Division with details
US, UK try to stem fallout from Silicon Valley Bank collapse
NEW YORK (AP) — Governments in the U.S. and Britain are taking extraordinary steps to prevent a potential banking crisis after the failure of California-based Silicon Valley Bank prompted fears of a broader upheaval.
U.S. regulators worked through the weekend to find a buyer for the bank, which had more than $200 billion in assets and catered to tech startups, venture capital firms, and well-paid technology workers.
While those efforts appeared to have failed, officials assured all of the bank’s customers that they would be able to access their money on Monday.
The assurances came as part of an expansive emergency lending program intended to prevent a wave of bank runs that would threaten the stability of the banking system and the economy as a whole.
Meanwhile, the Bank of England and U.K. Treasury said early Monday that they had facilitated the sale of the bank’s London-based subsidiary to HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, ensuring the security of 6.7 billion pounds ($8.1 billion) of deposits.
Regulators in the U.S. rushed to close Silicon Valley Bank on Friday when it experienced a traditional bank run, where depositors rushed to withdraw their funds all at once. It is the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history, behind only the 2008 failure of Washington Mutual.
In a sign of how fast the financial bleeding was occurring, regulators announced that New York-based Signature Bank had also failed and was being seized on Sunday.
At more than $110 billion in assets, Signature Bank is the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history. Another beleaguered bank, First Republic Bank, announced Sunday that it had bolstered its financial health by gaining access to funding from the Fed and JPMorgan Chase.
The developments left markets jittery as trading began Monday. The Asian and European markets fell but not dramatically, and U.S. futures were down.
In an effort to shore up confidence in the banking system, the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and FDIC said Sunday that all Silicon Valley Bank clients would be protected and able to access their money.
“This step will ensure that the U.S. banking system continues to perform its vital roles of protecting deposits and providing access to credit to households and businesses in a manner that promotes strong and sustainable economic growth,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
Under the plan, depositors at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, including those whose holdings exceed the $250,000 insurance limit, will be able to access their money on Monday.
The U.K. also moved quickly, working throughout the weekend to arrange the sale of Silicon Valley Bank UK Ltd., the California bank’s British arm, for the nominal sum of one pound.
While the bank is small, with less than 0.2% of U.K. bank deposits according to central bank statistics, it had a large role in financing technology and biotech startups that the British government is counting on to fuel economic growth.
Jeremy Hunt, the U.K. government’s Treasury chief, said that some of the country’s leading tech companies could have been “wiped out.”
“When you have very young companies, very promising companies, they’re also fragile,” Hunt told reporters, explaining the why authorities moved so quickly. “They need to pay their staff and they were worried that as of 8 a.m. this morning, they might literally not be able to access their bank account.”
He stressed that there was never a “systemic risk” to the U.K.’s banking system.
In the U.S., officials characterized their lending program as akin to what central banks have done for decades: Lend freely to the banking system so that customers would be confident that they could access their accounts whenever needed.
That will allow banks that need to raise cash to pay depositors to borrow that money from the Fed, rather than having to sell Treasuries and other securities to raise it.
Silicon Valley Bank began its slide into insolvency when it was forced to dump some of its Treasuries at at a loss to fund its customers’ withdrawals. Under the Fed’s new program, banks can post those securities as collateral and borrow from the emergency facility.
The Treasury has set aside $25 billion to offset any losses incurred. Fed officials said, however, that they do not expect to have to use any of that money, given that the securities posted as collateral have a very low risk of default.
Though Sunday’s steps marked the most extensive government intervention in the banking system since the 2008 financial crisis, the actions are relatively limited compared with what was done 15 years ago. The two failed banks themselves have not been rescued, and taxpayer money has not been provided to them.
President Joe Biden said Sunday evening as he boarded Air Force One back to Washington that he would speak about the situation on Monday.
In a statement, Biden also said he was “firmly committed to holding those responsible for this mess fully accountable and to continuing our efforts to strengthen oversight and regulation of larger banks so that we are not in this position again.”
Some prominent Silicon Valley executives feared that if Washington didn’t rescue the failed bank, customers would make runs on other financial institutions in the coming days. Stock prices plunged over the last few days at other banks that cater to technology companies, including First Republic and PacWest Bank.
Among the bank’s customers are a range of companies from California’s wine industry, where many wineries rely on Silicon Valley Bank for loans, and technology startups devoted to combating climate change.
Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru, a New York-based career coaching platform and community for women, posted a video Sunday on LinkedIn from an airport bathroom, saying the bank crisis was testing her resiliency.
Given that her money was tied up at Silicon Valley Bank, she had to pay her employees out of her personal bank account. With two teenagers to support who will be heading to college, she said she was relieved to hear that the government’s intent is to make depositors whole.
“Small businesses and early-stage startups don’t have a lot of access to leverage in a situation like this, and we’re often in a very vulnerable position, particularly when we have to fight so hard to get the wires into your bank account to begin with, particularly for me, as a Black female founder,” Dufu said. ___ Rugaber and Megerian reported from Washington. Sweet and Bussewitz reported from New York. Associated Press Writers Hope Yen in Washington, Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
Universal raises hourly wage to $17, setting pace for parks
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Universal Orlando Resort plans to raise its starting minimum wage by $2 to $17 an hour, becoming the wage leader among the big theme parks in central Florida, just as its crosstown rival, Walt Disney World, is in contract talks with service worker unions who are pushing to increase the starting hourly wage from $15 to $18.
The new wage structure, which includes raising pay for other workers based on the new rates and their time with the company, goes into effect in June, Universal Orlando Resort President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Irwin said in a letter Tuesday to the resort’s 25,000 workers.
The starting hourly wage hike is part of a larger effort aimed at improving worker benefits in a tight labor market that includes increasing 401(k) matches and tuition reimbursement, adding compassionate leave, doubling the amount of parental leave and upgrading behind-the-scenes areas for workers like break rooms and bathrooms, park officials said.
“But it doesn’t stop there, our culture seeks to create a path forward that supports our Team Members, gives them an opportunity to grow and fosters a real sense of purpose and belonging,” Irwin said in the letter.
Universal Orlando currently is recruiting for 2,500 positions across the resort. It also is gearing up toward opening a new park, Epic Universe, in 2025. The resort’s workers aren’t unionized.
At crosstown rival Walt Disney World, union members voted down a contract proposal covering 45,000 service workers earlier this month, saying it didn’t go far enough toward helping employees face cost-of-living hikes in housing and other expenses in central Florida. The company and unions plan to return to the negotiating table.
Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council Union coalition had been demanding a starting minimum wage jump to at least $18 an hour in the first year of the contract, up from the starting minimum wage of $15 an hour won in the previous contract.
The rejected proposal would have raised the starting minimum wage to $20 an hour for all service workers by the last year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 each year for a majority of the workers it covered. Certain positions, like housekeepers, bus drivers and culinary jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20 under the proposal.
Raising Canes Opens Clearwater Location to Rave Reviews
CLEARWATER, Fla. (FNN) – Hundreds of people lined up Tuesday for the grand opening of Raising Canes, the latest chicken hot spot in the Tampa Bay area. Raising Canes, which was founded in Louisiana, dubbed Clearwater as their first Florida location and fans delivered a warm welcome for the chain that proudly proclaims, “we serve only the most crave-able chicken finger meals, it’s our one love.”
The Pena’s showing some sibling love wanted to be the first in line for this momentous occasion. Getting in line at 10 PM, the duo planned to camp out with friends.
“We had to stay up all night, but it was fun,” said Ashley Pena. “We are definitely going to remember this experience.”
20 of the first 100 people were entered into a drawing to win free Raising Canes for a year!
For Kim Boldus, bringing the franchise to the area hits close to home and means the world to her.
“Raising Canes is really all about being in the community,” she said. I’m really excited personally and professionally because I am from this area, born and raised. I am very excited to bring this amazing restaurant. We do so many amazing things to pair with the community and I can’t wait to see what we do here in Clearwater.”
According to their website, Raising Canes supports over 30,000 local organizations. At the grand opening, they had the support of the local Chamber of Commerce as well as the Mayor to celebrate this momentous occasion.
After the pomp and circumstance, it was time to eat, much to the delight of the hungry fans waiting for a taste of chicken tender goodness, some who has experienced Raising Canes before, and others who wanted to see what the hype was all about.
“We’ve had our food truck out in the community this week and so we’ve had so many people excited to see us,” Boldus added. “For those who have never been, you can expect the most tender chicken fingers you’ve ever had with the best special secret sauce and garlic Texas toast that will blow your mind.”
Unsure of what to get? Bodldus offers a simple solution.
“Definitely a box combo so that you can try everything we have on the menu!”
Raising Canes is located at 2525 Gulf to Bay Blvd, Clearwater, FL 33765. The restaurant offers both dine-in and drive-through options and is open from 10 AM until midnight Sunday – Thursday and 1 AM on Friday and Saturday.