Treasury chief laments that judges do not understand tax evasion cases
By The Star Staff
Some judges do not understand tax evasion cases, which is why Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés Alicea reiterated on Tuesday his call to the judiciary to educate themselves on the criminal nature of the issue.
The call was made prior to it being made known that Judge Glen Velázquez of the San Juan Superior Court did not find cause for arrest against contractors Antonio Cruz Batista and his wife Evelyn Torres García for tax evasion.
“We are extremely surprised by the decision issued today by the San Juan Court in the case that the Department of Justice presented against Antonio L. Cruz Batista and Evelyn Torres García for tax evasion and fraud,” Parés Alicea said in a written statement. “The Treasury Department maintains that Cruz Batista and Torres García failed to comply with their tax responsibilities to the detriment of the treasury and compliant citizens. I support the decision of the Department of Justice to appeal in this case and we maintain that the investigation carried out by our experts from the Intelligence and Tax Fraud Area has sufficient evidence of violations of the Puerto Rico Internal Revenue Code.”
“This result is regrettable, but it drives me even more to reiterate the call that I have made, both publicly and in writing to the Courts Administration, so that we coordinate training workshops on tax issues, so that judges are better oriented when they evaluate and adjudicate these cases,” the Treasury chief added.
Prior to learning the determination of the Superior Court judge, Parés Alicea and the head of prosecutors in the Justice Department, Jessika Ivelisse Correa González, pointed out that in many of the tax evasion cases that are filed, the judges regard it as a civil matter in which money must be recovered, and not a criminal situation that requires another type of sentence.
“Messages in the courtrooms like ‘no one goes to prison for a tax debt,’ in my opinion, are what denotes a lack of knowledge of what [constitutes] the civil part and the criminal part,” Parés Alicea said. “The Department of the Treasury does not go before the Department of Justice to prosecute a charge of evasion exclusively to financially compensate for the damage that this person has caused, but we also present it in an exemplary, illustrative manner so that people understand that there are consequences.”
“I’m going to give this example,” he added. “A corrupt politician is prosecuted in court; if the judge who made those statements in a tax case had said that if the politician returned the stolen money, he would go home with an out-of-court agreement, wouldn’t it be true that we would have been outraged? All Puerto Ricans would have heard a demonstration of that nature, because then we must also see tax non-compliance from the same perspective.”
“It … hurts me in my heart and in my soul, when the first conversation that is had in the processing of these cases, of these criminal cases, in court is that the parties reach an agreement,” the Treasury chief said. “It hurts me a lot. Because it makes it even more difficult for us to achieve a more equitable Puerto Rico. It does not serve as a deterrent when the first conversation is for the parties to reach an agreement, as if what was being done is exclusively the economic damage due to non-payment.”
According to the investigation by the Treasury Department it was found that both Cruz Batista and Torres García failed to report around $1.4 million and owe approximately $1 million, which includes fines and penalties.
Cruz Batista has faced court cases in the past for receiving money from clients to perform construction work that he does not do. Correa González, the prosecutor, noted that when she takes the subject to court, she returns the money to the people who give up on continuing with the case.