A Florida lawyer who was indicted for bilking the federal government of more than $32 million in tax revenue through an Indiana fraud scheme has surrendered his license to practice law in the Hoosier State.
Michael Lee Meyer, of Davie, Florida, submitted his resignation to the Indiana bar, which the Indiana Supreme Court accepted on Friday. Meyer’s resignation under Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(17) required that he acknowledge a pending misconduct investigation into his actions that he could not defend himself against.
According to a disciplinary complaint filed by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission in March, Meyer in 1999 began marketing a “plan” to “take advantage of charitable giving donations.”
Under the plan, financial planners and certified public accountants would refer clients to Meyer to create a partnership or limited liability entity, all of which were established in Indiana. Meyer would draft documents causing his client to assign a non-management interest of the new entity to a charity, and those clients would remain managers of the entity.
Meyer would then cause the charity to generate a donation letter to the clients indicating the value of the property donated. If the property had not been valued, Meyer would perform the valuation himself.
The clients would then be instructed to claim a charitable deduction on their taxes because the interest in the entity was “donated” to a charity, according to the complaint. Also, Meyer told his clients to make annual distributions to the charities with interest in the clients’ entities.
At Meyer’s direction, the donations were made to specific charities in Indiana, all of which were represented by Meyer, who would draft the paperwork for charities’ 501(c)(3) status. The charities at issue included the Indiana Endowment Fund, Indiana Endowment Foundation, Grace Heritage Corporation and National Endowment Association, formerly known as the American Endowment Foundation. He was also in charge of the bookkeeping, taxes and record keeping for the charities.
Additionally, Meyer held direct and indirect control over each of the charities, including serving as a director. If Meyer was not a director, those close to him, including his parents, were. The charities listed no staff, and they would occasionally distribute money to each other.
An IRS action resulted in each of the charities losing their 501(c)(3) status and being dissolved. Meyer represented the charities in the IRS action.
In one instance, Meyer caused a charity to loan a client the value of the donated property shortly after the transfer of the created entity to the charity. The charity did not actively seek repayment, and “it appears Respondent repaid a portion of the loan for the participant,” according to the complaint.
Other loans may have also occurred, including $604,982 from the National Endowment Association. None of the charities managed or took action to guard their interest in the created entities, the complaint states.
Meanwhile, Meyer’s clients were given the option of paying him a flat fee or a percentage of the value of the property, as well as an annual maintenance fee. He agreed to represent the clients should the IRS question the validity of their charitable donations.
Also, the referring CPAs or financial planners received compensation from the charities, including one instance of a referrer receiving 30% of the value of the property. These payments were listed as “fundraising expenses” in the charities’ financial documents and ranged from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In April 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an action against Meyer in Florida federal court on multiple allegations that the plan was illegal. The DOJ estimated the government was deprived of more than $32 million in revenue.
Meyer eventually reached a settlement with the government that permanently enjoined him from being involved with any tax matter, plan or representation. He did not admit wrongdoing.
In its March complaint, the Disciplinary Commission accused Meyer of multiple violations of Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7(a), as well as Rules 1.8(c) and 8.4(d).
The disciplinary action was dismissed pursuant to Meyer’s resignation from the Indiana bar. He cannot petition for reinstatement for at least five years.
The case is In the Matter of: Michael Lee Meyer, 21S-DI-118.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected.