A judge for the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida has ordered Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Wachovia and American Express to turn over the Miccosukee Tribe’s financial records to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a press release issued yesterday by Miami-Dade lawyer Ramon M. Rodriguez.
Judge Alan S. Gold halted the Miccosukee’s’ numerous attempts to block the IRS from digging into financial records related to the tribe’s 600 members. He said the IRS’s right to financial records supersedes the tribe’s sovereign nation status. The ruling covers all internal financial operations of the tribe and the distribution of gambling profits to tribal members. The documents, held by Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Wachovia and American Express, cover the years 2006-09.
According to a report in the Miami Herald on Aug. 2, the IRS began investigating the tribe in 2005, when IRS agent James Furnas became suspicious of tribal members not filing income tax reports and of the tribe not withholding income taxes on gaming distributions. Furnas stated in court papers that the agency learned of “allegations that the tribe regularly hired armored cars to carry cash, somewhere between $6 and $10 million per quarter, from its gambling operation for direct distribution to tribal members without reporting these distributions to the IRS.”
In the press release, Rodriguez stated that the ruling will shine a light on the tribe’s once secretive finances and casino revenues. “The financial consequences could prove to be enormous and the legal precedence ground breaking,” he said.
Rodriguez is representing the plaintiffs in a case involving a 1998 head-on collision car accident on Tamiami Trail near the Miccosukee reservation in Miami, Fla., that killed Gloria Liliana Bermudez and injured her husband, Carlos Bermudez, and their infant son Matthew. Miccosukee tribal member Tammy Gwen Billie had crossed the centerline and struck the Bermudez vehicle head-on. Billie, as court records show, was intoxicated when driving a vehicle owned by her father, Jimmie Bert, also a Miccosukee tribal member.
Billie pled guilty to vehicular homicide, resulting in probation, and in July 2009, a jury awarded the Bermudez family $3,177,000 in damages. The defendants, however, have failed to satisfy the judgment, claiming to be “uncollectible,” though as members of the Miccosukee Tribe they may be receiving as much as $160,000 a year in per cap payments.
On July 21, 2011, Miami- Dade County Judge Michael A. Genden ordered sanctions against Billie, her father and their Miami lawyer Michael R. Tein and the Coconut Grove, Fla. law firm Lewis Tein for abuse of the discovery process during the post-judgment stage of this wrongful death case.
“The IRS is able to get financial records that my clients have been waiting for,” Rodriguez said. “The tribe owes a great deal of money, and they’ve been using Wall Street firms to hide their wealth. It’s been a financial hide and seek that would make Swiss banks proud.”