A Florida CPA who pled guilty to a tax misdemeanor for assisting his client, a self-proclaimed priest, in hiding income from the IRS, has had his suspension from practice extended after the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility won an appeal challenging the original length and date of suspension.

According to the published decision on appeal, Lawrence Legel, a Ft. Lauderdale practitioner who was represented by counsel, voluntarily waived his right to a trial in Federal District Court and pled guilty to a violation of section 7203 in August 2008. When the IRS OPR began an expedited proceeding to indefinitely suspend him, Legel recanted his admission of guilt, alleging prosecutorial misconduct and coercion by his criminal defense attorney.

Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro then rejected OPR’s recommendation of a 36-month suspension in a subsequent administrative hearing, imposing a 24-month suspension and calculating the start date from the time Legel was placed on probation in the criminal proceeding, which was a year before OPR took action to suspend him.

OPR appealed the length and commencement date of the suspension.

On March 31, the Treasury Appellate Authority ruled that 36 months was the appropriate suspension period based on the circumstances and that the correct date to calculate the period of suspension is the date on which OPR imposed its suspension under the expedited procedure provisions of Circular 230.  

In the decision on appeal, the appellate authority responds to Administrative Law Judge Biro’s decisions by agreeing with some and disagreeing with others.

In the decision, two “very seriously aggravating factors” were listed as offsetting the mitigating factors of administrative hearing-adjusted suspension: “Legel’s false and misleading statements during the disciplinary process and his lack of remorse and attitude towards his crime and conviction.”

The commencement of Legel’s 36-month suspension is now Jan. 13, 2009 and will end Jan. 13, 2012.

“The Appellate Authority makes it clear in his decision that he considers a conviction of knowingly and willfully assisting in the failure of another to pay income tax to be a very serious charge that strikes at the heart of the agency’s mission and is directly contrary to the duties of one who practices before the IRS,” said OPR Director Karen L. Hawkins in a statement. “Convicted practitioners can expect OPR to continue its aggressive use of the expedited suspension procedures in Circular 230 to quickly and efficiently remove them from practice for the taxpaying public’s protection.”