U.S. v. MAGA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
DOMINIC JOSEPH MAGA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
Filed April 4, 2012.
Before: COOK, WHITE, and DONALD, Circuit Judges
Dominic Joseph Maga appeals a jury verdict finding him guilty of failing to
file income tax returns. He contends that the trial proceedings violated his
Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, that the district court erroneously
denied his motion for acquittal, and that the district court abused its
discretion in denying his motion for a new trial. For the reasons that follow,
years ago, Maga obtained copies of his "individual master file"
transcript (also known as an "IMF transcript" or a "specific
transcript"), a technical record that the IRS uses to keep a running
account of all of a person's tax events—e.g., penalties assessed, refunds owed,
refunds issued, and interest. He noticed that the code "MFR-01"
appeared on each of his IMF transcripts. Unsure of the meaning of this code, he
wrote to the IRS about it. An IRS disclosure officer replied via letter that
the code meant "1040 not required." Based on this letter and his
reading of IRS manuals on the Internet, Maga claims he interpreted the code to
mean that he was "not required" to file any returns.
IRS's records revealed that Maga stopped filing tax returns in 1996, years
before he received the letter from the disclosure officer. When the IRS sent a
levy notice, Maga requested a collection due-process hearing, purporting that
he did not need to file tax returns.
grand jury indicted Maga for failure to file a federal income tax returns
between 2002 and 2006—five counts in all. It also indicted Maga for four counts
of tax evasion.
to Maga's arguments on appeal is the government's preparation of his official
tax transcripts for use at trial. These transcripts, also known as Form 4340s,
document in lay terms the same information contained in an IMF transcript.
trial, the prosecution called IRS employee John DePowell to explain how he
generated and certified Maga's official tax transcripts. DePowell testified
that he became involved in Maga's case when a special agent from the IRS
Criminal Investigative Division asked him to obtain Maga's Form 4340s.
According to DePowell, he first cross-referenced the social security number
that the agent gave to him with the Social Security Administration to confirm
that it belonged to Maga, then generated the Form 4340s by accessing the IRS
master file remotely and printing them out at his desk. After verifying the
accuracy of the Form 4340s against the data on the computer, he presented his
findings to Resident Agent-in-Charge Martha Williams for further verification.
Williams signed the certification at the end of each of the transcripts and
DePowell affixed the seal. On the witness stand, DePowell identified the Form
4340s he generated and their accompanying "certificates of official
record," observing that the Form 4340s revealed no record of Maga filing a
tax return for the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.
the prosecution rested, Maga objected to the admission of the Form 4340s and
their certificates and moved for acquittal. The trial court denied the motion
without comment. In his closing argument, Maga maintained that he did not
willfully fail to file the tax returns because he could not have known from
publicly available information that the IRS letter's explanation, "1040
not required," referred to the IRS's obligation to mail tax return forms,
rather than his obligation to file tax returns. See 26 U.S.C. § 7203
(requiring proof of willfulness as element of "failure to file tax return"
jury returned a guilty verdict for the five counts of failure to file a tax
return and acquitted Maga of the four counts of tax evasion.
short, Maga drew from public sources to create an interpretation that no one
shares—or in the prosecution's words, a "secret" interpretation. The
mere fact that Maga used public sources in this interpretive process does not
shield the resulting misinterpretation from skepticism. The district court did
not plainly err in refusing to grant a new trial on this ground.
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