Third Circuit Vacates Sentence of John M. Crim in Commonwealth Trust Company Tax Shelter Criminal Tax Case

Dec 22, 2011   

On December 12, 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals entered an opinion and order in the consolidated case of United States of America, v. John M. Crim, et al.  case numbers 08-3028, 08-3931, 08-4077, and 08-4316.  The consolidated cases involved the appeals from the convictions obtained by the United States against  John M. Crim, John Brownlee, Constance Taylor, and Anthony Trimble.  John M. Crim was represented on appeal by Fuerst Ittlemans Senior Tax Associate Joseph A. DiRuzzo, III. Mr. Crim was not represented at trial by Mr. DiRuzzo.

The facts of the case are somewhat complex, and are, in relevant part, as follows:  Mr. Crim founded the Commonwealth Trust Company (“CTC”), and according to the Government used CTC to assist taxpayers in evading their federal income tax obligations.  CTC allegedly marketed both domestic and offshore trusts to be used to siphon off income and profits from domestic taxpayers and advised taxpayers not to file federal income tax returns.  CTC also allegedly advocated the use of liens to avoid IRS seizures and tax liens.

The Government indicted Crim, Brownlee, Taylor, and Trimble and charged violations of 18 USC section 371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States), commonly referred to as a Klien conspiracy and 26 USC section 7212 (the “omnibus clause” prohibiting the administration of the Internal Revenue Code) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Crim, Brownlee, Taylor, and Trimble were convicted at trial of all counts.  

On appeal, Mr. Crim raised various issues, such as the improper admission at trial of evidence concerning CTCs celebrity client Wesley Snipes (who was convicted of failing to file income tax returns as a result of heading CTCs advice); that the restitution order was improperly entered; and that the 96 month sentence on both counts was procedurally improper.

The Third Circuit ultimately held that the sentence imposed against Mr. Crim was improper and vacated his sentence and remanded to the District Court for resentencing.  The Third Circuit also remanded Mr. Crims case for clarification of the restitution order. A full copy of the opinion can be found here.

A petition for rehearing en banc was filed and was denied on December 12, 2011.  Joseph A. DiRuzzo, III will be filing a petition on behalf of Mr. Crim before the U.S. Supreme Court early next year.

Among other things, what the Third Circuits Decision in the Crim teaches is that having an attorney who is well versed in substantive tax and substantive criminal law is an absolute necessity in a criminal tax case.  Having an attorney who is versed in one area of the law but not the other may result in opportunities being lost for a criminal defendant.  The attorneys at Fuerst Ittleman have proficiency in substantive tax law and criminal law and have experience litigating civil tax cases, criminal cases, and criminal tax cases.  You can contact an attorney by emailing us at