I came across a news article this morning that a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor from Montreal was convicted on Friday June 12th on charges of corruption for attempting to extort $90,000 from a restaurant owner in lieu of a $600,000 audit assessment.
Upon seeing the article, I went to see if I knew any of the people involved, which I did not, and it brought back my memory of the only time I was offered a bribe while working at the CRA, which I obviously declined.
I was the Resource and Complex Case Officer in a Collections unit here in Toronto and one of my accounts involved a gentleman who had a habit of opening and closing companies over a 27-year period.
He would never file, the auditors would assess his balance, he would bankrupt the company and the next day he would open a new one. He even used the same bank, but would open and close accounts over-and-over again.
It was quite funny given that he denied everything, even his $1 / year income but with a $5-million dollar house all paid off, it took me one phone call to put everything together.
He was a nice guy… Honestly. His house was built by him and his kids, on land his father bought 45-years ago, and the assessments the CRA were charging him with – prompting him to bankrupt the companies – was not even related to the business he was in.
He didn’t know why they were assessing him. He was afraid the CRA was going to put him in jail.
The CRA thought he was a criminal and kept on top of him.
One giant misunderstanding, which was quickly resolved after I taught him how to file HST returns.
But when I first met him and presented him with a list of companies that he had opened and closed year-after-year, he said this to me;
“I’m connected to the mob.”
I said to him, “Okay. That’s not my business. What is my business is finding out why you keep doing this and what the CRA can do to help you.”
He said, “If you can make this balance go away, I’ll give you Toronto Maple Leaf tickets.”
After I stopped laughing, I said to him, “Are you kidding me? I’m a huge hockey fan, and I love the Leafs, but if I were to even consider a bribe that would result in me losing my job, going to jail, and not being able to see my children, it would have to be for a hell of a lot more than Leafs tickets, and to be honest, if you have THAT much cash, you’re better off paying your debts and never falling behind on filing or paying again.”
He replied; “I was just kidding.”
I said, “Of course you were.”
I mentioned it to my Manager who, after reviewing the file, suggested I run this by the Special Investigations unit. I spoke to SI and they knew of this gentleman and that he has been suggesting his ties over the years in hopes of having the CRA back off, and only when I explained the reasoning behind the debt did the SI manager mention that he was told this many years ago but didn’t believe it to be true.
I wonder what happened to that guy…
I hope he stayed compliant!
Back to this case.
This case relates to an auditor named Francesco Fazio who, in 2005, was auditing a restaurant named “La Belle Place.” and after completing the audit, told owner Stamatis Argiroudis that he would owe $600,000 in taxes based on Fazio’s estimate of unreported revenue, according to a Montreal Gazette report.
According to testimony from the trial, Fazio told the owner that a more favourable estimate could be made for $90,000.
The owner refused to pay the money and probably words were spoken and the file was transferred to another CRA auditor. The auditor said the owner mentioned connections to organized crime, however the judge presiding over the case did not believe this to be true and ruled against the auditor.
In this day and again of recording devices in our phones and the CRA snitch line, it’s important to be careful what you say, and to whom you say it. Same goes for using social media. Be careful what you say about people and businesses when it’s not true.
I hope the CRA conducts an investigation into all the companies that this audit has audited to see if there is a recurring pattern or if this was a once-off situation.