Everybody knows the danger of sending things inadvertently in an e-mail. Beda Singenberger’s case shows you also have to be pretty careful when you mail things the old-fashioned way.

Over an 11-year period, federal prosecutors charge, Swiss financial advisor Singenberger helped 60 people in the U.S. hide $184 million in secret offshore accounts bearing colorful names like Real Cool Investments Ltd. and Wanderlust Foundation.

Then, according to a prosecutor, Singenberger inadvertently mailed a list of his U.S. clients, including their names and incriminating details, which somehow wound up in the hands of federal authorities.


Now, U.S. authorities appear to be picking off the clients on that list one-by-one. Singenberger’s goof has already ensnared Jacques Wajsfelner, an 83-year-old exile from Nazi Germany, and Michael Canale, a retired U.S. Army surgeon, court records show. Another customer, cancer researcher Michael Reiss, pleaded guilty, though his court records don’t mention the list.

“He was sending mail to someone in the United States, and apparently in error he included a list of U.S. taxpayers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Levy said on March 5 at the sentencing in New York of Wajsfelner. “The government has mined that list to great effect and prosecuted a number of people who were on that list.”

Wajsfelner, who pleaded guilty to hiding $5.7 million from the Internal Revenue Service, was sentenced to three months of house arrest.

The Lesson

Aside from Singenberger’s snail-mail gaffe, the case shows how offshore accounts are used not just by the megarich but also by the merely wealthy. It’s also further evidence that the government is continuing its aggressive assault on taxpayers who use offshore accounts to avoid taxes.

Since 2008, U.S. prosecutors charged at least 86 people in their crackdown on offshore tax evasion, including two dozen bankers, lawyers and advisers like Singenberger. Another 38,000 Americans avoided prosecution through an IRS amnesty program that let them repatriate their accounts by paying back taxes and penalties and disclosing their offshore accounts and bankers.