Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gabriel the Comedian

In February, the United States Tax Court issued an opinion in the case of Gabriel J. Loup. Agents or auditors of the Internal Revenue Service had determined that Mr. Loup owed more taxes for his 2003 federal income tax return than he had reported or paid. The dispute revolved around his entitlement to claimed business expense deductions. IRS said he couldn't deduct expenses he had wanted to. Gabriel represented himself before the court; he didn't hire an attorney to represent him.

You have to be careful of the judge you get. In this case, Gabriel drew a judge named Wherry. Now, that has to give you pause and make you wary, doesn't it? Some might say it should be enough to let the case go and not argue it. Anyway, I suppose Gabriel didn't know he would draw that judge and decided to proceede anyway. Afterall, Gabriel aspired to a profession in comedy.

Yeah, Gabriel wanted to be a standup comedian and actor. He had some experience to tell the court about. As a matter of fact, in October 2002, he had signed a contract with the Morgan Agency for a one-year period. The agency would act as Gabriel's agent for some television commercials. Gabriel also had a regular job. He was licensed as an intensive care unit nurse and worked as a pharmaceutical company representative.

Gabriel said he became a member of the 9 Layer Dipz, a sketch comedy group, in 2002 or earlier. The group, 9 Layer Dipz, wrote, produced, and directed its own comedy shows.

On his tax return for 2003, Gabriel claimed deductions on Schedule A that totaled $16,704, $12,811 of which were listed as "job expenses and most other miscellaneous deductions" which actually represented $13,761 of expenditures limited by two percent of Gab's reported adjusted gross income for the year. He detailed the expenses on an attachment, a Form 2106-EZ, used for deducting unreimbursed employee business expenses. He also stapled an explanry statement to his return.

The first thing that should be noted is that Gabriel's tax return preparer put these expenses on the Schedule A and then detailed them on the Form 2106-EZ erroneously; they should have gone on a Schedule C. The preparer, it appears, didn't know what he was doing.

During the trial, Gabriel and the IRS argued about whether his activity relative to comedy was a hobby or not. Of course the IRS said it was a hobby and Gabriel said it most certainly wasn't. Most of the evidence Gabriel submitted was intended to prove that the activity wasn't a hobby, but most of the evidence he had also postdated the year at issue, 2003. Eventually, IRS gave up on the hobby issue, conceding it, and argued that Gabriel wasn't in a business yet as a comedian so he couldn't deduct the expenses. It basically said that Gabriel had only done his comedian routines sporadically up to the end of that year and, therefore, it wasn't a going concern. It said he failed to substantiate the expenses and said many of them were personal and not business expenses.

Gabriel provided four advertisements for 9 Layer Dipz but none of them indicated which year they pertained to. Some of them did provide the day and month of a performace but not the year. Gabriel said at least one of them pertained to 2003, but the advertisement itself said it was going to happen on a particular day, a Wednesday or some such, and that particular day on that particular month in 2003 was not a Wednesday. Ah oh! Also, it became apparent that Gabriel had created a log that didn't coincide with anything else and appeared to be made up. Double ah oh!

The evidence indicated that all of Gabriel's performances with 9 Layer Dipz occurred in 2004 not 2003. Even the contract Gabriel had entered into in 2003 was not helpful because it didn't establish that he had ever performed as a comedian or actor in 2003. The court concluded Gabriel had not demonstrated active involvement in acting or comedy in 2003.

Gabriel lost his case because he didn't have his facts straight, didn't have his evidence properly lined up, wasn't entirely prepared, didn't have a business plan, and probably another few dozen reasons that could be listed. Preparation precedes power. If you're not prepared, don't expect to have any power to persuade a revenue agent or a tax auditor, or, for that matter, the United States Tax Court over agains what an agent of the IRS says.

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