Some people believe that not filing a tax return or making false claims for tax deductions is no big problem. To them, failure to file is just simple negligence. Often the media encourages such a mentality. Comedians have often made hay with this human failing. Here is an example.
Years ago, the TV show “Saturday Night Live” presented a skit featuring a fictional tax consultant named “Fast Frank”. They never expected that a real tax consultant named Maurice Frank would surface and file a lawsuit against them alleging he had been defamed by the skit.
Here is a part of the judgment from Frank v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc.:
The plaintiff, Maurice Frank, is an accountant, tax consultant and financial planner. The defendants are the producers of the late night television comedy program “Saturday Night Live”. The plaintiff’s complaint concerns a broadcast aired the day before the general deadline for filing income tax returns. The program included a skit which is the subject of the instant defamation suit.
The plaintiff refers to the objectionable skit as the “Fast Frank Feature”. In the skit a performer was introduced to the audience as a tax consultant with the same name as the plaintiff, Maurice Frank. This character gave tax advice which the plaintiff described as “ludicrously inappropriate”. Specifically, the following monologue was defamatory:
“Hello. Look at your calendar. Your taxes are due tomorrow. You could wind up with your assets in a sling. So listen closely. Here are some write-offs you probably aren’t familiar with – courtesy of “Fast Frank”. Got a houseplant? If you love it and take care of it – claim it as a dependant.
Got horrible acne? Use a lotta Clearsil – that’s an Oil-Depletion Allowance. You say your wife won’t sleep with you? You got withholding tax coming back. If she walks out on you – you lose a dependent. But…it’s a home improvement – write it off.
Should you happen, while filling out your tax form, to get a paper cut – thank your lucky stars – that’s a medical expense and a disability. Got a rotten tomato in your fridge? Frost ruined your crops – that’s a farm loss. Your tree gets Dutch Elm Disease…Sick leave – take a deduction. Did you make a trip to the bathroom tonight? If you took a trip…and you did business – you can write it off. Wait, there’s more. Did you cry at “Terms of Endearment”? That’s a moving expense. A urologist who’s married to another urologist can file a joint return.
Got a piece of popcorn stuck between your teeth?…Or a sister who drools on her shoes?…You got money comin’ back – and I can get it for you fast, because I’m Fast Frank. Call me. I have hundreds of trained relatives waiting to take your call. At Fast Frank’s we guarantee your refund will be greater than what you earned…”
No person who has ever had the dubious pleasure of filling out a federal tax form would, in his most extravagant fantasies, believe he could claim his favourite Boston Fern as a dependent. No person exists who is so gullible as to believe his acne medication entitles him to an oil-depletion allowance or that the departure of a spouse from the marital premises – however welcome – may be listed as a deductible “home improvement”. No one who saw the “Fast Frank Feature” could believe that the plaintiff was inclined to prepare income tax returns claiming paper cuts as medical expenses.
The contested statements here were so extremely nonsensical and silly that there is no possibility any person hearing them could take them seriously. Neither were the statements themselves so malicious or vituperative that they would cause a person hearing them to hold the plaintiff in “public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace”…We believe that the lunacy of the statements themselves, presented as they were as a small comic part of a larger and obviously comic entertainment program, coupled with the fact that they were neither a malicious nor vicious personal attack, requires a finding that they were not defamatory as a matter of law. Rather, this case involves just that sort of humour which is “of a personal kind that begets laughter and leaves no sting”, and it thus cannot form the basis of a lawsuit…
As ludicrous as this case may be, the skit reflects the popular perception that tax evasion is not very serious. While we can all laugh at a good joke, the problem is that laughter can turn to tears if you are caught.
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. You are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained in the context of your own particular circumstances.