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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

December 12, 2019

AMINTA A. SMITH, Defendant.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 29. (#42).

         I. Background

         On March 18, 2019, Defendant was charged by Superseding Indictment with twenty counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns and three counts of filing a false tax return. (Doc. No. 27). Jury selection was completed on May 20, 2019, and the presentation of evidence began on May 28, 2019. Following the close of the Government's case, on May 29, 2019, Defendant moved for judgment of acquittal. The Court heard oral argument and denied Defendant's motion. On May 30, 2019, Defendant was convicted of all twenty-three counts. (Doc. No. 39). On June 13, 2019, Defendant filed the instant Motion, moving for a judgment of acquittal as to Counts Twenty One through Twenty Three of the Superseding Indictment.[1] (Doc. No. 42).

         II. Standard of Review

         When considering a post-verdict motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the court assesses whether, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. See United States v. Higgs, 353 F.3d 281, 313 (4th Cir. 2003) (holding that a conviction must be sustained if there is “evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”) (quoting United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 862 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc)). The court does not weigh the credibility of witnesses but accepts any such determinations made by the jury which are necessarily resolved by the verdict. See United States v. Wilson, 118 F.3d 228, 234 (4th Cir. 1997) (holding that credibility determinations are reserved for the jury, and if the evidence supports different, reasonable interpretations, the jury decides which interpretation to believe) (internal quotation marks omitted); United States v. Arrington, 719 F.2d 701, 704 (4th Cir. 1983). In making a Rule 29 motion, “[a] defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction bears ‘a heavy burden.'” United States v. Beidler, 110 F.3d 1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). “Reversal for insufficient evidence is reserved for the rare case ‘where the prosecution's failure is clear.'” Id. (quoting Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 17 (1978)).

         III. Discussion

         After hearing the evidence, the jury convicted Defendant of Counts Twenty One through Twenty Three of the Superseding Indictment, which alleged violations of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). (Doc. No. 27). Defendant argues that the Government failed to introduce evidence of any direct income to Defendant in 2013 and 2014 and that the Government failed to prove that Defendant was the owner of Smith Tax and Insurance and required to report the business and its income on her tax return. Defendant further argues that the Government failed to follow requisite steps for a bank deposits method of proof for the 2015 tax year to establish total income. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.

         A. 2013 and 2014 Tax Returns (Counts Twenty One and Twenty Two)

         In its Superseding Indictment, the Government alleged that Defendant willfully filed false tax returns in 2013 and 2014 when she: (1) failed to disclose that she was engaged in the operation of a business activity from which she derived gross receipts, knowing that she was engaged in the operation of a business activity from which she derived gross receipts, specifically her tax preparation business; and (2) reported her total income in 2013 and 2014 on Lines 15 and 22 was $22, 012 and $24, 341, respectively, where as she knew her total income on Lines 15 and 22 was substantially greater. (Doc. No. 27). At trial, as part of the defense, Defendant attempted to categorize three of Defendant's businesses as separate from one another and subject to different reporting requirements. The Government introduced, however, more than sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to find that these three businesses-Touch by Angels Tax Service, Touch by Angels Accounting, and Smith Tax and Insurance-were different in name only and all reflected the same preparation business, for which Defendant was the owner and which she should have reported on her 2013 and 2014 tax returns.

         At trial, the Government called Kristy Morgan, an IRS Service Center Representative, who testified that Defendant applied for and was rejected for an EFIN in the name of Touch by Angels Tax Services in February 2010 for lack of suitability, and that an application referencing the name of Ben Smith applied for an EFIN in the name of Touch by Angels Accounting Services in October 2010 and Smith Tax & Insurance Group, LLC in December 2012. (Govt. Ex. (“GX”) GX 16, 18, 74, 76, 78). Further, the Government, through Ms. Morgan, offered Exhibit 75, which is a Personal Associated Application for Aminta Smith. On this document, Smith Tax & Insurance Group is listed as an associated application for Defendant and she is listed as a “Delegated User.” (GX 75).

         The Government also called Meshawn Jean-Louis from Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, who testified that the purported EFIN account holder in 2013 and 2014 for the Touch by Angels Accounting Services account was Defendant. (GX 89A and 89B). Ms. Jean-Louis further explained the difference between an EFIN holder and a contact person, and testified that while Ben Smith was at certain times listed as the contact person for the business, from 2013-2014, the EFIN holder, perceived by Santa Barbara to be the “owner” of the business account, was Defendant.

         The Government also admitted Ben Smith's 2013 and 2014 tax returns into evidence and Ms. Morgan testified that Ben Smith did not claim any Schedule C tax preparation business in 2013 and 2014, and that Defendant is listed as the paid preparer. (GX 302 and 303). Ms. Morgan also testified that in 2015, Ben Smith did not file any tax return. (GX 314). The Government further called IRS Special Agent Nicholas Pompei, who testified that when he interviewed Defendant, she stated that she was the owner of her tax preparation business called Touch by Angels, which she had started in October 2009, and that it was a sole proprietorship. Importantly, Defendant failed to report any iteration of her tax preparation business in 2013 and 2014, including the version she claims was actually hers, Touch by Angels Tax Services, and admitted at trial to being the owner of a tax preparation business, a sole proprietorship, since at least 2009. (Def. Ex. 11). On these facts alone, a reasonable juror could convict Defendant on Counts Twenty One and Twenty Two. See Griffin v. United States, 502 U.S. 46, 49 (1991) (when a jury returns a guilty verdict on an indictment charging several acts in the conjunctive, the verdict stands if the evidence is sufficient as to any one of the acts charged).

         Defendant includes lengthy discussions of alter-ego theory, piercing the corporate veil, and the nature of LLCs in her Motion. None of these arguments undermine the evidence the Government established at trial. Defendant admitted to owning a tax preparation business, her name is on numerous documents and records for each alternate “name” for that business, and her clients testified that they paid her to prepare their returns in the years in question. This evidence is sufficient to prove that in 2013 and 2014 she both underreported her total income and failed to report ...

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