- Get rich.
- Stow your money abroad and don't tell Uncle Sam.
- Be a 79-year-old widow.
The latest lenient sentence, and the most dramatic, came in the case of Mary Estelle Curran, a wealthy 79-year-old widow in Palm Beach, Fla. On April 25, Federal District Court Judge Kenneth Ryskamp scolded prosecutors for pursuing her and sentenced her to a year of probation. Within a minute, he revoked the probation, making her a free woman.
Ms. Curran had pleaded guilty to having secret foreign accounts containing more than $40 million. Her lawyers said she inherited the money from her husband and relied on European advisers who told her not to declare it to the U.S. Ms. Curran tried to enter the IRS's limited-amnesty program in 2009, but the agency turned her down. She was indicted in late 2011 and faced up to 37 months in prison.
Even if you can't meet suggestion number three, be careful to observe number two; it will make things easier later.
The average sentence handed down in offshore cases has been less than 15 months, according to Mr. Townsend. In contrast, the average sentence in tax-shelter schemes has been 30 months over the past three fiscal years, according to IRS data.
Three-quarters of taxpayers charged in offshore account cases have pleaded guilty. So far, judges have handed down prison sentences about half the time.
"The cases involving offshore bank accounts are drawing lighter sentences than other criminal tax cases," said Mr. Townsend, who practices at Townsend & Jones LLP in Houston. He calls the discrepancy "troubling, because cheating is cheating."