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Owen Fiore, a prominent San Jose tax attorney, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for underreporting more than $1.5 million in income over a four-year span, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan announced Wednesday. Fiore, the 69-year-old head of Fiore Ramsbacher, is a leading expert in the area of estate planning and family trusts and a frequent litigator against the Internal Revenue Service with several reported cases. Federal prosecutors allege that he owes $626,000 in back taxes. “Tax compliance should be equally shared among all of us, and that includes tax professionals,” IRS special agent-in-charge Victor Song said in a news release announcing the charges. Fiore could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at his firm said he was out for the day. “Owen Fiore is innocent of all charges,” said his attorney, Richard Sideman of Sideman & Bancroft. The allegations “stem from a period of time when he worked as a sole practitioner in San Jose. Owen’s innocence will be demonstrated conclusively in a court of law.” Sideman declined to comment further. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. Fiore’s first court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 10. Fiore is accused of drastically underreporting income for the years 1996-1999. Each of the four counts against him could bring five years in prison. Fiore Ramsbacher was formed in 1999 from the Fiore Law Group. The four-lawyer firm focuses primarily on wealth management. Fiore was chairman of the ethics advisory group of Trusts & Estates magazine, an industry trade journal. He resigned from the position last month. Fiore is also a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the American College of Tax Counsel. “I’m very surprised to hear this,” said Keith Schiller, of Walnut Creek’s Schofield & Schiller. “He’s an outstanding practitioner with an excellent reputation.” Schiller said Fiore had always seemed well regarded by the IRS. “Owen has done the right thing, in my observing him, in maintaining his credibility before the IRS in his effective representation of taxpayers,” Schiller said. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denier is prosecuting the case. He declined to comment. For 1996, Fiore reported $157,476 in taxable income. In fact, prosecutors say, he made nearly three times that and underpaid his taxes by $119,330. In 1997, Fiore reported $167,948 in income, and underpaid $150,497 in taxes. They allege he owes $142,376 more for 1998. For 1999, $214,420. Scofflaws are often given the chance to repay back taxes along with interest and penalties. But not always. “We look at intent at the time that a tax return was filed,” said Special Agent Mark Lessler, a spokesman for the IRS’s criminal investigations unit. “It’s not a matter of settling it, it’s a matter of whether the law was broken.” Fiore is not the only lawyer targeted by Ryan’s tax unit. Los Angeles attorney Eric Witmeyer was sentenced earlier this month to probation for his role in an alleged scheme involving Jerome Schneider, a financial adviser and author of several books, including “Hiding Your Money.” In December 2002, the two were accused of conspiracy to commit tax fraud in connection with efforts to help conceal assets from the IRS through offshore shelters. Witmeyer pleaded guilty and has since declared himself inactive with the State Bar. Schneider’s case is pending before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston. The U.S. attorney’s office has criminal cases pended against several other lawyers, including David Klarman, former general counsel of U.S. Wireless; Jay Lapine, former general counsel of HBO & Co.; and plaintiffs lawyer Nikolai Tehin. None of those are tax-related. Patent lawyer Malcolm Wittenberg, a former Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May partner, pleaded guilty to an insider trading charge in 2001.

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