When news of the indictment of 6 National Prearranged Service officers was reported last November, many newspapers picked up the AP version that included a quote from the Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator. The fact is that the Federal investigation of NPS involves investigators from the IRS, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. An FBI press release regarding the NPS indictments includes comments from investigators with the three Federal agencies. To understand how NPS’ actions triggered the jurisdiction of the three agencies, a 2009 FBI press release concerning the indictment of Randall Sutton provides an explanation of the underlying facts.
The main thrust of the IRS investigation will be to determine whether the NPS officers committed income tax evasion with regard to what they individually received, or with regard to what the company received. The investigation will need to determine how the distributions from insurance, and from trusts, should have been reported by NPS. The investigation will also need to examine how NPS’ sister corporation, Lincoln Memorial Life, reported its income. And, the investigation will look at how the preneed trusts controlled by NPS reported their income.
Shortly after the Federal investigation of NPS was initiated, the Springfield Journal-Register reported that a Federal investigation of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association master trust had been initiated. As with NPS, Federal investigators will look closely at whether the reports mailed to funeral homes, and the statements mailed to consumers, were fraudulent, and thereby, violated mail fraud statutes. However, another line of investigation will be whether the master trust violated the Federal tax code.
What does the IRS’ role in these investigations mean to funeral homes and consumers? If these entities failed to accurately report income, the IRS (and state authorities) will view the unreported income as lost revenue to government. Preneed trust income must either be reported to the consumer or taxed by the trust. NPS trusts may have had annual tax liabilities in the tens of millions of dollars. No small potatoes considering the plight state coffers currently face.
Consequently, consumers and funeral homes may see taxing authorities become more aggressive in the enforcement of preneed income reporting requirements. With fewer agents due to budget constraints, the IRS may begin promoting its whistleblower program. If the situation reported this past weekend is an indicator of the future, non-compliant preneed companies may have more to fear from the disgruntled employee than being selected for a random audit by the IRS or state department of revenue.