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In re Vaughn

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

August 26, 2014



Joseph J. Mellon of The Mellon Law Firm, Denver, Colorado, for Appellant.

Rachel I. Wollitzer, Attorney, Tax Division (John F. Walsh, United States Attorney, Of Counsel; Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General; and Bruce R. Ellisen, Attorney, Tax Division, with her on the brief), Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, McKAY, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.


Page 1175

McKAY, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises from an adversary proceeding initiated bye Appellant James Charles Vaughn seeking a declaration that his taxes assessed for the years 1999 and 2000 are dischargeable under his Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. After a trial, the bankruptcy court determined the taxes were not dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(C) because Appellant had filed a fraudulent tax return and sought to evade those taxes. The bankruptcy court's decision was affirmed by the federal district court on appeal. Appellant now appeals the district court's order affirming the bankruptcy court's decision.


The following material facts were among those presented to the bankruptcy court at trial. In the mid-nineties, Appellant was Chief Executive Officer of a cable television acquisition company, FrontierVision Partners, LP. Though Appellant had little formal education beyond high school, he had significant practical business experience. In the decade-and-a-half prior to becoming CEO of FrontierVision, Appellant served in senior executive positions at a number of cable and communication companies. Appellant was so effective in these positions he was described by one of his colleagues, the Chief Financial Officer at FrontierVision, Jack Koo, as having " as much business acumen as anyone that [Mr. Koo had] known in [his] career." (Supplemental App. at 591.)

Between the years 1995 and 1999, Appellant shepherded FrontierVision as it grew from a start-up venture into a multi-billion dollar company. In 1999, FrontierVision was sold to another company for roughly $2.1 billion. Appellant received approximately $20 million in cash and $11 million in the purchasing company's stock from this sale.

Appellant testified that around the time of the FrontierVision sale, he realized he " was going to come into a lot of money," and he " needed to do some kind of tax planning, whatever it turned out to be." (Supplemental App. at 532-533.) In June 1999, a partner of the international accounting firm KPMG LLP introduced Appellant to a tax strategy known as Bond Linked Issue Premium Structure (" BLIPS" ), which was a product offered by a company called Presidio Advisory Services LLC and marketed by KPMG. FrontierVision had an established relationship with KPMG, which had handled a number

Page 1176

of acquisition, tax, and accounting matters for FrontierVision since 1995.

Through a series of communications with representatives of KPMG and Presidio, BLIPS was presented to Appellant in detail. BLIPS was described as a structured, multi-stage program that involved investment in foreign currencies. BLIPS's use as a tax strategy resulted from the manner in which the program combined a participant's relatively small cash contribution to an investment fund (made through a limited liability company), with a nonrecourse loan and a loan premium, ultimately facilitating a high tax loss for the participant without a corresponding economic loss. Through BLIPS, a desired tax loss could be tailored to offset a participant's actual economic gain, and thereby shelter that gain from tax. The BLIPS program was structured so the basis for a desired tax loss would be achieved by closing out the investment fund after sixty days. In fact, Appellant testified he understood that the ultimate amount he would contribute to his BLIPS investment fund was based on the tax loss he wished to generate to offset his capital gain from the sale of FrontierVision. He also testified that when he entered the BLIPS program in October 1999, he did so knowing he would withdraw by the end of the year--after roughly sixty days--essentially guaranteeing his BLIPS transaction would generate a tax loss covering his capital gains.

KPMG advised Appellant that BLIPS was accompanied by the risks of an IRS audit and the possibility of owing additional taxes. KPMG advised Appellant that in order for a BLIPS transaction to withstand a challenge by the IRS, a participant needed to have a legitimate profit motive in the BLIPS investment. Appellant appreciated the risks associated with BLIPS, stating he understood the BLIPS program " as a choice between paying $9 million of taxes currently or claiming the benefits of [the BLIPS] losses and paying $3 million currently with some risk of paying more taxes later." (Appellant's App. at 1189.) Appellant memorialized his appreciation of these risks when he signed an engagement letter in September 1999 which stated he " acknowledge[d] that [BLIPS] is aggressive in nature and that the [IRS] might challenge the intended results of [BLIPS] and could prevail under any of various tax authorities." (Supplemental App. at 124.) The letter further stated Appellant " acknowledge[d] that any tax opinion issued by KPMG would not guarantee tax results, but would provide that with respect to the tax consequences described in the opinion, there is a greater than 50 percent likelihood (i.e., it is 'more likely than not') that those consequences will be upheld if challenged by the [IRS]." ( Id. at 123.) The engagement letter also set forth the $506,000 fee Appellant was to pay KPMG for its role in advising Appellant regarding BLIPS.

The sale of FrontierVision closed on October 1, 1999. Shortly thereafter, between the months of October and December, Appellant participated in a BLIPS transaction. As a result of Appellant's artificially high basis in his BLIPS LLC, his $2.8 million contribution to a BLIPS investment fund, when combined with a loan and loan premium issued to his BLIPS LLC, generated a purported tax loss of roughly $42 ...

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