Day: October 16, 2020

U.S. ‘largest-ever’ tax fraud case

Jaclyn Peiser – 10/16/2020

A Texas billionaire evaded $2 billion in taxes, feds say. Now he’s charged in the ‘largest-ever’ tax fraud case.
Robert T. Brockman was so paranoid that the Internal Revenue Service would catch on to his scheme, prosecutors said, that in June 2016 the Texas billionaire allegedly ordered his offshore money handler to travel the U.S. destroying paper evidence and “electronic media” with shredders and hammers.

a group of people posing for the camera: Powered by Microsoft News © Dave Rossman/AP Powered by Microsoft News But on Thursday, prosecutors alleged that his decades-long tax fraud scheme, the largest in American history, had finally caught up to him. A federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted Brockman, 79, on 39 charges, including tax fraud, wire fraud, evidence tampering and money laundering, authorities said.

“The allegation of a $2 billion tax fraud is the largest ever tax charge against an individual in the United States,” David L. Anderson, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, said at a news conference.

An indictment filed earlier this month alleges that Brockman, the chief executive of Reynolds and Reynolds, an Ohio-based company that makes software for car dealerships, used a network of entities in Bermuda and Nevis to hide investment income from the IRS. He also allegedly had secret bank accounts in Bermuda and Switzerland, where he funneled untaxed profits from selling assets.

To keep up the scheme, Brockman used secret, encrypted email systems to coordinate with offshore money handlers, according to the indictment. Brockman, who seemed to have a penchant for assigning monikers to people and places, called himself “Permit,” the IRS “the house,” and assigned his handlers fish-themed code names like, “Redfish, “Bonefish,” and “Snapper.” He also named his $29 million luxury yacht — allegedly paid for with the hidden funds — “Turmoil.”

Brockman, who lives in Houston and Pitkin County, Colo., is a Marine veteran who started out in marketing at Ford Motor Company. He later worked as a salesman at IBM before founding Universal Computer Services in the 1970 leading the company through its acquisition by Reynolds and Reynolds in 2006.

But starting in 1999, prosecutors say, Brockman began carefully stashing money overseas and covering his tracks to avoid investigators.

Brockman was adept at evading fees and covering up suspicious activity, prosecutors allege. He told his main handler, who is unnamed in the indictment, to “operate as much as possible in a paperless manner” so that everything was “in encrypted digital form,” the indictment said.

Investigators also found that Brockman backdated documents to cover up his crimes. In an email from July 2008, Brockman notified his handler to avoid using copy machines and laser printer paper because it “has encoded into it the manufacturer of that paper as well as the year and month of manufacture,” Brockman wrote. “For that reason I always set aside some packets of copy paper with dates on them — for potential future use.”

The charges also included allegations that between 2008 and 2010, Brockman lied to investors and allegedly bilked them out of nearly $68 million.

A spokeswoman for Reynolds and Reynolds told the New York Times that the company “is not alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing, and we are confident in the integrity and strength of our business,” and noted that Brockman’s actions occurred “outside of his professional responsibilities.”

The case against Brockman was bolstered by witness and alleged co-conspirator Robert F. Smith. Referenced as the wealthiest Black person in the country, the 57-year-old billionaire attracted national headlines in May 2019 when he pledged to pay off all the student loans for the graduating class of Morehouse College, an all-male, historically Black college in Atlanta.

Smith is the founder of Vista Equity Partners, a San Francisco-based private-equity fund that had a single investor: Brockman. According to prosecutors, Smith helped Brockman hide his profits earned through Vista in offshore accounts so he could avoid paying taxes.

In a news conference, Anderson, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, said that Smith signed a non-prosecution agreement, where he admitted to his part in the scheme and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He also acknowledged evading $43 million in federal taxes from 2005 to 2014 and accepted a settlement to pay about $140 million in taxes and penalties.

A lawyer for Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the virtual hearing on Thursday, Brockman pleaded not guilty on all counts and was released on $1 million bond.

“We look forward to defending him against these charges,” Kathryn Keneally, Brockman’s lawyer, said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

Why I Love Nut Milk Bags (For More Than Just Straining Nut Milks!)

Welcome to One Simply Terrific Thing, our ongoing series highlighting the small tools and kitchen goods that make life better!

The nut milk bag’s terribly-specific name screams unitasker! but it’s actually an incredibly useful tool that can replace many single-use or clumsy, large items in your kitchen and/or home bar.

In terms of practical value, it’s right up there with a reliable cocktail shaker.

The nut milk bag is made of fine, breathable mesh. Because of the airflow, you can use it as a container for drying herbs or edible flowers. It can also replace cheesecloth, fine strainers, coffee filters, and any of the other unwieldy gear you reach for when you need to separate solids from liquid. (And oh yeah, and it strains nut milks, too.)

These bags come in various sizes, but this wide 12-inch size is the best overall. It can hold quite a lot (I used mine recently to strain chicken stock scraps), but also doesn’t seem excessive for straining smaller items like a batch of fresh ricotta cheese. The wide opening also ensures that you can fold it over a bowl or a measuring glass.

I’ve had my current nut milk bag for around four years now and only just recently needed to grab an extra one, since quarantine life had me straining cold brew coffee and homemade cheese concurrently. Not only is this a versatile kitchen tool, but if you’re also a home bar enthusiast (like me!), then this also comes in handy for infusing liquors or straining that batch of homemade orgeat.

The best part of owning one is saying goodbye to so many single use items, and those annoying threads from cheesecloth. And when you’re done with it, it folds up teeny tiny into your drawer until next time.

Continue reading “Why I Love Nut Milk Bags (For More Than Just Straining Nut Milks!)” »

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Sony’s $5,000 3D display (probably) isn’t for you

Sony just announced a $5,000 3D display, but odds are it’s probably not for you. Primarily known for its consumer goods, the company is targeting creative professionals with the Spatial Reality Display — more specifically, those working in fields like computer graphics and visual effects for films. Basically it’s a way for artists to view their 3D creations without having to wear a VR headset.

The company’s not the first to offer up this kind of technology for a fairly niche audience. The Looking Glass display is probably the best-known offering in the space up to this point. But unlike that massive 8K screen, Sony’s product is actually designed for a single user — specifically as a screen for their desktop PC. Also, it kind of looks like an Amazon Echo Show.

Image Credits: Sony

The big differentiator between the product and existing devices is the inclusion of a sensor that determines the user’s viewing position, including vertical and horizontal access, along with distance, and tailors the image to that specific angle, adjusting within the millisecond.

Sony says it’s a “highly-realistic, virtual environment.” It showed off an earlier version of the technology at CES this year, using a rendering of the Ecto-1 from the upcoming Ghostbusters sequel, and planned to give the press a demo of the final version of the screen, but we all had to settle for conference calls instead, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For that reason, I can’t really speak to the efficacy of the 3D imaging as of this writing.

The company consulted with its Sony Pictures wing, which used the technology for the development of CG effects for the aforementioned Ghostbusters film. Volkswagen has also been involved since the project’s early stages, looking toward the technology’s potential use in the ideation and design processes.

For everyone else, the display goes up for sale through Sony next month.