Doctor Deserves Vindication, Lawyer Truly Demands Accountability

Back in the 1990s, a nationwide tax-shelter and investment business named Anderson’s Ark Associates (AAA) caught the Internal Revenue Service’s attention. Claiming that it was nothing more than a tax-evasion scheme, the IRS indicted those involved — including investors who didn’t know it was a scam and who had lost their investments.

What transpired then has become the focus of several US~Observer investigative reports. With several successes at the hands of the winningest lawyer in America against the IRS, Houston-based Michael Minns, there is one final client who deserves vindication: Dr. Erik Dehlinger.

Dehlinger, a South Carolina emergency room surgeon, invested with AAA and lost. Dehlinger even appeared on the government’s victim list. Nonetheless, Dehlinger was charged with income tax evasion — during years when AAA’s main planner, Tara La Grand, actually produced the doctor’s tax returns. He signed those returns because, as Dehlinger said: “She said it was legal. I relied on her.”

AAA sought to protect itself and its planners and hired an attorney by the name of Scott Engelhard, who also ended up representing Dehlinger.

And that’s what this case is really about: conflict — conflict of interest, the conflict that comes when an attorney (Englehard) testifies against his own client (Dehlinger) and keeps off the stand the only people who could testify for the doctor. It’s the conflict that arises when your own attorney essentially puts you in prison.

But the greatest conflict comes when someone champions the cause of the innocent, stands up and says enough is enough — as is the case of Michael Minns’ fighting for Dehlinger and his right to have had a fair trial. It’s something Minns contends could not have happened with Englehard as the doctor’s attorney, especially because he also represented La Grand, who — even though she has been accused of being a perjurer — was not allowed to testify in the doctor’s case.

At the Oct. 30 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, Minns stood in the middle of the conflict by responding to Judge Andre Davis’ question: “What lawyer, frankly, in his or her good mind would ever have called Ms. La Grand as a witness?”

Minns responded immediately, without hesitation: “Well, I definitely would have. And I did subpoena her. And I also put planners on during the trial in Seattle where we won acquittals in all counts. And I definitely would have put her on in this case because she said they all believed it [AAA] was legitimate.”

Minns went on to point out that there really was conflict all the way through this case, and that Dehlinger could not have received a fair trial.

Two of the three judges seemed critical of the argument for Dehlinger, but all three judges (Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz and Davis) seemed put off by the government argument.

According to Minns, the decision could go either way.

So on this Thanksgiving Day take a moment to offer a thought or prayer for the successful resolution in Dehlinger’s case, and then raise your glass to the likes of Minns, a lawyer who truly demands accountability.

–Ron Lee

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Ron Lee