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Husband’s “Knowledge” of Wife’s Exercise of $100.5 MM in Stock Options Disqualifies Him From Innocent Spouse Relief

Husband’s “Knowledge” of Wife’s Exercise of $100.5 MM in Stock Options Disqualifies Him From Innocent Spouse Relief

According to Law360, the husband of a former president of InfoSpace can be held jointly liable for a nearly $40 million tax debt the IRS asserted against a return they filed for the 2000 tax year, the U.S. Tax Court ruled, saying he didn't qualify for so-called innocent spouse relief.

The court agreed with the Internal Revenue Service that Mark Strom, a former cardiac and thoracic surgeon and husband of a former InfoSpace president and COO, Bernee Strom, knew of his wife's exercising of stock options that led to unreported income of $100.5 million. 

Just Knowing About The Understatement,
The Court Said, Torpedoed His Claim For Relief
From Joint And Several Liability.

Bernee Strom received incentive and nonstatutory stock options when tech company InfoSpace hired her in 1998, and she exercised the nonstatutory options in 2000, the decision said. The couple talked with advisers and chose to defer calculation and recognition of most of the income attributable to exercising options in 2000 to the 2021 tax year when the market value of the company's stock was much lower, according to the decision. The plan resulted in more than $100 million in income being left off the Stroms' 2000 return, the court said.

Mark Strom was involved in the exercising of the options and the talks with lawyers and tax consultants to develop "tax-favorable" reporting positions on the 2000 return and approved those positions, according to the decision. Holding Mark Strom jointly liable for the resulting taxes assessed by the IRS is fair because he knew all the facts pertaining to the transactions, the court said.

Internal Revenue Code Section 6015 governs relief from joint and several liability on joint tax returns. Mark Strom sought innocent spouse relief in 2009 and again in 2012, both for the 2000 tax year, the decision said.

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Read more at: Tax Times blog

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