Bradley Birkenfeld, in a gray pinstripe suit and with a polite demeanor and upper-class accent, exuded the persona of international banker as he stood in front of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., judge Thursday to plead guilty in a tax conspiracy. Birkenfeld told U.S. District Judge William Zloch that a large salary with incentives from Swiss banking giant UBS lured him into a scheme to help the bank’s wealthiest customers in the United States avoid taxes on funds in overseas accounts. At one point, he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste tube for a client, according to his confession detailed in a court document.

He has an incentive to cooperate: trimming time from a federal prison sentence. His cooperation promises to lead the Internal Revenue Service up the chain at UBS and to clients who benefited from his commitment to saving them millions of dollars in tax liability.

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