Mega-millionaire, 79, admits offshore tax evasion

A Palm Beach heiress and charity benefactor pleaded guilty Tuesday tousing foreign bank accounts to hide more than $43 million from the IRSin one of the largest cases in the continuing U.S. crackdown on offshoretax evasion.

Mary Estelle Curran, 79, will pay nearly $21.7million in penalties after admitting she filed two years of false taxreturns. She failed to disclose her Switzerland and Liechtensteinaccounts on federal tax returns from 2001 to 2007, according to aJustice Department announcement.

Curran faces a maximum six-yearprison term at a scheduled March 29 sentencing, though a plea agreementfiled in court suggested that the applicable guideline level in her casewould be 30 months to 37 months.

She must also file amendedfederal tax returns for 2001 through 2007 and pay $667,716 in overduetaxes, plus interest and penalties.

"U.S. citizens who seekto avoid their tax obligations by hiding income in undeclared bankaccounts abroad should by now be fully on notice that they will be heldaccountable for their actions, both civilly and criminally," said U.S.Attorney Wifredo Ferrer of Florida's Southern District.

Theguilty plea and prospect of prison time come in sharp contrast withCurran's life in a five-bedroom, six-bathroom Palm Beach family home,which estimates is worth more than $3 million.

Additionally, a 2011 report in the Palm Beach Daily Newsshows Curran has given years of support and service to Opportunity Inc.Early Childhood Center, which provides education to children of needyfamilies. She also has been a supporter of the Rehabilitation Center forChildren and Adults, a 2010 Palm Beach Daily News report shows.

Curran's attorney, Roy Black, famed for his successful defense ofWilliam Kennedy Smith on rape charges in Palm Beach, did not respond to aphone message seeking comment.

Curran is the latest of dozensof offshore banking clients snared in the offshore tax-evasioncrackdown launched by the Justice Department and IRS in 2008. Sheinherited the offshore accounts from her husband, Mortimer. He died in2000, according to a statement of facts filed Tuesday in her court case.

Court records show some of her assets were held in the names ofoffshore firms at UBS, a Swiss banking giant that in 2009 agreed to a$780 million settlement of federal criminal charges that it had helpedwealthy American clients evade taxes.

In 2008, fiduciariesmanaging Curran's financial affairs closed the UBS accounts andtransferred the assets to a Liechtenstein bank under a corporate name,the court records show.


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