Bradley Birkenfeld helped the wealthy dodge taxes, went to prison and is now reportedly getting $104 million from the IRS for whistleblowing on some clients. Among them: billionaire Igor Olenicoff, who lives in Laguna Beach and oversees Olen Properties real estate in Newport Beach. Interestingly, Olenicoff blamed Swiss banking giant UBS for aggressively convincing him to move about $200 million of his fortune offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Birkenfeld confirms UBS had him to do such convincing.
Olenicoff pleaded guilty in December 2007 to failing to declare accounts in the Bahamas, England, Liechtenstein and Switzerland from 1998 to 2004 and of filing a false tax return in 2002. Federal Judge Cormac Carney in Santa Ana sentenced him to two years probation and 120 hours of community service, and the billionaire was forced to pony up $52 million in back taxes, interest and penalties.
In February 2009, UBS AG agreed to pay the U.S. $780 million to resolve its tax fraud case. Finding that fine unfair considering the Swiss bank's wealth relative to his own, Olenicoff sued on grounds UBS AG bankers gave him bad advice about sheltering his money. Judge Andrew J. Guilford in Santa Ana tossed the suit in April, writing "two wrongs don't make a right."
Birkenfeld, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges stemming from the UBS case, spent 2 1/2 years in prison. He also helped the government build their cases against wealthy people from Miami to Newport Beach who UBS had sent him to influence.
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As the Los Angeles Times reports today, the Bostonian will now be lavished with one of the highest payments ever given to a whistleblower. He used to having a beefy bank account (or accounts), as the avid skier reportedly owned a $1-million home at the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland, kept an apartment in Geneva, drove a luxury BMW and traveled throughout the world.
Loyalty has its privileges, as Birkenfeld is also reported to have once smuggled a client's diamonds in a toothpaste tube to avoid detection by tax authorities. But he apparently soured on UBS by 2005, thinking what the bank was doing was illegal. Now he's enjoying a big payday for having helped prove that. Further proof the rich really aren't like you or me.