New Jersey Man Indicted for Promoting Tax Fraud Scheme

A Pemberton, New Jersey, man appeared in court yesterday on a federal grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring to defraud the United States, assisting in the filing of false tax returns, obstructing the internal revenue laws, and failing to file a tax return, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. The Sept. 2, 2020 indictment was unsealed following the court appearance.

According to the indictment, John W. Barry, Jr., conspired with individuals in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and New York to promote a “mortgage recovery” tax fraud scheme in which they obtained for their clients tax refunds from the IRS based on fraudulent tax returns. Barry and his coconspirators allegedly represented to clients that they could extinguish their outstanding mortgage debts by filing forms with the IRS and then caused clients to file forms and tax returns that fraudulently claimed that a substantial amount of taxes had already been withheld from them. These false withholding claims allegedly caused the IRS to issue more than $3 million in refunds to clients. According to the indictment, Barry typically charged each client a fee of between 20 and 35 percent of the refund the client obtained, and then split those fees with his coconspirators. The indictment also charges that Barry did not file his own 2016 return, and thus did not report or pay any taxes on any income generated from his scheme. 

The indictment further alleges that when the IRS discovered the fraud and attempted to recover the wrongfully paid refunds, Barry took steps to obstruct the agency by: providing clients with fraudulent documents to send to the IRS, directing clients to conceal from the IRS his role in filing their false returns, and advising a client to remove funds from his bank account in order to thwart IRS collection efforts.

If convicted, Barry faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy, three years in prison for each false tax return count, three years in prison for obstructing the internal revenue laws, and one year in prison for failing to file a tax return. He also faces a period of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties. 

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg thanked special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, who conducted the investigation, and Assistant Chief John Kane and Trial Attorney Sean Green of the Tax Division, who are prosecuting the case.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

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    Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Contact Tracing Apps
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Contact tracing can help reduce transmission rates for infectious diseases like COVID-19 by identifying and notifying people who may have been exposed. Contact tracing apps, notably those using proximity tracing, could expedite such efforts. However, there are challenges, including accuracy, adoption rates, and privacy concerns. The Technology What is it? Contact tracing is a process in which public health officials attempt to limit disease transmission by identifying infected individuals, notifying their "contacts"—all the people they may have transmitted the disease to—and asking infected individuals and their contacts to quarantine, if appropriate (see fig. 1). For a highly contagious respiratory disease such as COVID-19, a contact could be anyone who has been nearby. Proximity tracing applications (apps) can expedite contact tracing, using smartphones to rapidly identify and notify contacts. Figure 1. A simplified depiction of disease transmission. Through contact tracing, an infected individual’s contacts are notified and may be asked to quarantine. (In reality, some contacts may not become infected, and some of those infected may not show symptoms.) How does it work? In traditional contact tracing, public health officials begin by identifying an infected individual. They then interview the individual to identify recent contacts, ask the individual and their contacts to take containment measures, if appropriate (e.g., a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19), and coordinate any needed care and testing. Proximity tracing apps may accelerate the process by replacing the time-consuming interviews needed to identify contacts. Apps may also identify more contacts than interviews, which rely on interviewees' recall and on their being acquainted with their contacts. Public health authorities provide the apps, often using systems developed by companies or research groups. Users voluntarily download the app for their country or region and opt in to contact tracing. In the U.S., state or local public health authorities would likely implement proximity tracing apps. Proximity tracing apps detect contacts using Bluetooth, GPS, or a combination of both. Bluetooth-based apps rely on anonymous codes shared between smartphones during close encounters. These codes contain no information about location or user identity, helping safeguard privacy. The apps allow public health authorities to set a minimum time and distance threshold for someone to count as a contact. Contact tracing can be centralized or decentralized. With a centralized approach, contacts identified by the app are often saved to a government server, and an official notifies contacts of possible exposure. For a decentralized approach, contact data are typically stored on the user's device at first. When a user voluntarily reports infection, the user's codes are uploaded to a database that other app users' phones search. Users who have encountered the infected person then receive notifications through the app (see fig. 2). Figure 2. Bluetooth-based proximity tracing apps exchange information, notify contacts exposed to an infected person, and provide follow-up information. How mature is it? Traditional contact tracing is well established and has been an effective infectious disease response strategy for decades. Proximity tracing apps are relatively new and not as well established. Their contact identifications could become more accurate as developers improve app technology, for example by improving Bluetooth signal interpretation or using information from other phone sensors. Opportunities Reach more people. For accurate COVID-19 contact tracing using traditional methods, public health experts have estimated that the U.S. would require hundreds of thousands of trained contact tracers because of the large number of infections. Proximity tracing apps can expedite and automate identification and notification of the contacts, reducing this need. Faster response. Proximity tracing apps could slow the spread of disease more effectively because they can identify and notify contacts as soon as a user reports they are infected. More complete identification of contacts. Proximity tracing apps, unlike traditional contact tracing, do not require users to recall or be acquainted with people they have recently encountered. Challenges Technology. Technological limitations may lead to missed contacts or false identification of contacts. For example, GPS-based apps may not identify precise locations, and Bluetooth apps may ignore barriers preventing exposure, such as walls or protective equipment. In addition, apps may overlook exposure if two people were not in close enough proximity long enough for it to count as a contact. Adoption. Lower adoption rates make the apps less effective. In the U.S., some states may choose not to use proximity tracing apps. In addition, the public may hesitate to opt in because of concerns about privacy and uncertainty as to how the data may be used. Recent scams using fake contact tracing to steal information may also erode trust in the apps. Interoperability. Divergent app designs may lead to the inability to exchange data between apps, states, and countries, which could be a problem as travel restrictions are relaxed. Access. Proximity tracing apps require regular access to smartphones and knowledge about how to install and use apps. Some vulnerable populations, including seniors, are less likely to own smartphones and use apps, possibly affecting adoption. Policy Context and Questions Although proximity tracing apps are relatively new, they have the potential to help slow disease transmission. But policymakers will need to consider how great the benefits are likely to be, given the challenges. If policymakers decide to use proximity tracing apps, they will need to integrate them into the larger public health response and consider the following questions, among others: What steps can policymakers take to build public trust and encourage communities to support and use proximity tracing apps, and mitigate lack of adoption by some populations? What legal, procedural, privacy, security, and technical safeguards could protect data collected through proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to improve coordination of contact tracing efforts across local, state, and international jurisdictions? What can policymakers do to expedite testing and communication of test results to maximize the benefits of proximity tracing apps? What can policymakers do to ensure that contact identification is accurate and that its criteria are based on scientific evidence? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • VA Health Care: VA Needs to Continue to Strengthen Its Oversight of Quality of State Veterans Homes
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays over $1 billion a year to state veterans homes (SVH)—homes owned and operated by the states—to provide nursing home care to approximately 20,000 veterans. In fiscal year 2019, VA paid SVHs $1.17 billion for an average daily census of 20,072 veterans (51 percent of the total veterans receiving nursing home care through VA). Further, VA projects its payments to SVHs will continue to increase; VA projects it will pay $1.7 billion to SVHs to provide care to veterans in fiscal year 2022. VA oversees the quality of care veterans receive at SVHs mainly through annual inspections that VA hires a contractor to perform. In its July 2019 report, GAO found that VA's SVH contractor performed the required annual inspections for all SVHs in 2018, but VA needed to take action to enhance its oversight of SVHs and to ensure that information on quality of care provided in this setting is publicly available to veterans. Specifically, GAO found the following: VA does not require its SVH contractor to identify all failures to meet quality standards during its inspections as deficiencies . For example, GAO found that VA allows its SVH contractor to cite some failures to meet quality standards as “recommendations,” rather than as deficiencies. VA officials said they do not track or monitor the nature of the recommendations or whether they have been addressed. As a result, VA does not have complete information on all failures to meet quality standards at SVHs and cannot track this information to identify trends in quality across these homes. VA is not conducting all monitoring of its SVH contractor. GAO found that, at the time of its review, VA had not monitored the SVH contractor's performance of inspections through regular observational assessments to ensure that contractor staff effectively determine whether SVHs are meeting required standards. Specifically, VA officials said they intended to observe the SVH contractor's inspections on a quarterly basis; however, at the time of GAO's review, VA officials could not recall when VA last observed the SVH contractor's inspections. In July 2020, VA provided information indicating that they will regularly monitor the SVH contractor's performance in conducting inspections through observational assessments. VA does not share information on the quality of SVHs on its website. GAO found that, while VA provides information on the quality of other nursing home care settings on its website, it does not do so for SVHs. According to VA officials, there is no requirement to provide information on SVH quality on its website, as SVHs are owned and operated by the states. VA is the only federal agency that conducts regular oversight inspection on the quality of care of all SVHs and, as a result, is the only agency that could share such quality information on its website. Veterans—like over a million other Americans—rely on nursing home care to help meet their health needs. For eligible veterans whose health needs require skilled nursing and personal care, VA provides or pays for nursing home care in three nursing home settings: the VA-owned and -operated community living centers, public- or privately owned community nursing homes, and state-owned and -operated SVHs. In fiscal year 2019, VA provided or paid for nursing home care for over 39,000 veterans. The majority of these veterans received care at SVHs. This statement summarizes the GAO's July 2019 report, GAO-19-428 , with a focus on issues related to SVHs. Specifically, it describes the: (1) use of and expenditures for SVHs, (2) inspections used by VA to assess the quality of SVH care and VA's oversight of the inspection process, and (3) information VA provides publicly on the quality of SVH care. As part of that work GAO analyzed VA data on expenditures for SVHs and interviewed VA officials. For this statement GAO reviewed expenditure and utilization data for fiscal year 2019. In its July 2019 report, GAO made three recommendations related to SVHs, including that VA require that all failures to meet quality standards are cited as deficiencies on SVH inspections. VA concurred with two recommendations and concurred in principle with the third. VA has addressed one recommendation and continued attention is needed to address the two remaining recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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