His sentencing hearing offered a rare peek into the Seminole Tribe and its Las Vegas-style gambling enterprise, featuring the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Broward County. The Cypress case also conjured comparisons to the IRS’s current income-tax crackdown on the Miccosukee Tribe in Miami-Dade County and its former chairman Billy Cypress, no relation.Very interesting stuff about how the gambling profits are distributed:
David Cypress’ lawyer tried to convince the judge that the 61-year-old former tribal council member committed the crime because of “cultural” differences between the Broward-based Seminoles and the rest of America. Defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn said Cypress was a “simplistic man” who didn’t grasp he owed personal income taxes as the tribe underwent a “rags-to-riches” transformation, thanks to its gaming bonanza.
Hirschhorn also argued that Cypress, who apologized in a brief statement, was a victim of the U.S. government, which he said showcased his client as the “poster boy for tax compliance on the reservation, perhaps even in all Indian Country.”
But U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams was not swayed, despite recognizing the “shameful episodes” of the nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans.***The judge also noted that she could find no evidence of any Native American anywhere in the country being convicted of a tax offense.
Cypress’ prison sentence could have been much worse had federal prosecutors been able to prove he “willfully” committed the double-billing scheme for the entire seven-year period. He was only charged with and pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 2007, understating his income by $285,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell, who urged the judge to give Cypress a two-year sentence, mocked the defendant’s argument that his cultural background prevented him from grasping U.S. tax laws. “This was a sophisticated individual,” Bell said. “He was a leader of the Seminole nation.”
Under federal law, the Seminole Tribe’s status as a sovereign nation means the entity itself is not subject to taxes. But once the tribe distributes profits from its gambling casino to members, they are individually responsible for reporting and paying taxes on their annual income tax returns, according to the IRS.
In court papers, Hirschhorn revealed that the Seminoles’ gaming profits reached $300 million a year by 2001, with monthly dividends paid to each member. The Seminoles have 3,800 members.Under the distribution formula, every Seminole family of four receives dividends of about $30,000 a month.Meantime, if you want more Apple/Samsung coverage, check out this piece by Conan:
Cypress, a notorious big spender who built a massive Mediterranean-style mansion with his millions, was paid a salary of $500,000 on top of the monthly dividend. Like other Seminole council leaders, Cypress controlled a discretionary fund that he tapped to dole out money to family and other tribal members.