A Law Professor Fought The IRS By Not Filing Taxes For 10 Years and Lost

What Happened When A Law Professor At Harvard Refused To File His Taxes For a Whole Decade

Harvard Law Professor and former Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr was in the news recently, for representing Harvey Weinstein in his criminal case – something that cost Sullivan his deanship. But Sullivan is no stranger to controversy. The professor failed or refused to file tax returns with the IRS for years and years. Then, he went to Tax Court to dispute the taxes the IRS claimed from him.

The professor failed to respond to any of the IRS notices. With the IRS, the procedure is all-important. That was one of the reasons why the professor lost big in the end.

According to IRS records, the professor did not file tax returns between 2005 and 2013. When the IRS finally caught up, they wanted to collect taxes for 2012 and 2013. For the two years only, the IRS wanted the professor to pay $1,231,775.

Facts of the case:

Sullivan did not file tax returns for 2012 and 2013. He had never made even close to enough money to justify a tax bill that high. His real income was far below the same.

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What went wrong?

Sullivan never filed tax returns, This left the IRS to attempt to piece together his income based on available records, from forms W-2 and 1099. The IRS has the right to do this and can prepare substitutes for returns (SFR). Typically when the IRS resorts to SFRs, it does not bode well for the taxpayer.

After the IRS finished the SFRs. It began collection procedures. And once again, Sullivan ignored the notices and did not follow procedures. Only after the IRS delivered notices of intent, did Sullivan stirred. He objected, but when the IRS requested proof from him for his claim that he]is tax was incorrectly assessed, he again failed to respond.

During 2017, the IRS sent Sullivan three letters to inform him that he needed to file his outstanding returns for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 if he wished to contest their assessment of his income. When the IRS scheduled a telephonic hearing, Sullivan avoided it and refused to provide the financial documentation and tax returns required from him. Then, the IRS prompted him seven times about his outstanding balance. He never responded.

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The Tax Court

The Tax Court found it easy to concur with the IRS. It agreed that the IRS followed the rules. It decided that the tax assessed was fixed. It agreed that the IRS could proceed and collect.

Sullivan was in all probability right that his tax for the assessed period was much less. His inaction cost him – he forfeited his right to prove his point. YOU HAVE TO FILE even if you cannot pay your taxes. And you can only keep your procedural rights alive if you respond timely to all IRS notices.

Readers should note that this article is only intended to convey general information on these issues and that FAS CPA & Consultants (FAS) in no way intends for the contents of this article to be construed as accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This article cannot serve as a substitute for such professional services or advice. Any decision or action that may affect the reader’s business should not rely solely on the contents of this article, but should rather be consulted on with a qualified professional adviser. FAS shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this presentation. This article is subject to change at any time and for any reason.

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