Rutkin v. United States, No. 195

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURTON
Citation96 L.Ed. 833,72 S.Ct. 571,343 U.S. 130
PartiesRUTKIN v. UNITED STATES
Decision Date24 March 1952
Docket NumberNo. 195

343 U.S. 130
72 S.Ct. 571
96 L.Ed. 833
RUTKIN

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 195.
Argued Dec. 3, 1951.
Decided March 24, 1952.
Rehearing Denied May 12, 1952.

See 343 U.S. 952, 72 S.Ct. 1039.

Mr. Jack L. Cohen, Newark, N.J., for petitioner.

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Mr. Irving I. Axelrad, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal issue before us is whether money obtained by extortion is income taxable to the extortioner under § 22(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.1 For the reasons hereafter stated we hold that it is.

The petitioner, Rutkin, was indicted under 26 U.S.C. § 145(b), 26 U.S.C.A. § 145(b),2 for willfully attempting to evade and defeat a large part of his income and victory taxes for 1943. He was charged with filing a false and fraudulent return stating his net income to be $18,966.64, whereas he knew that it was $268,622.04. That difference, which would increase his tax liability from $6,843.93 to $222,408.32, was due largely to his omission from his original return

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of $250,000 received by him in cash from Joseph Reinfeld. The United States claims that this sum was obtained by petitioner by extortion and as such was taxable income. Petitioner contests both the fact that the money was obtained by extortion and the conclusion of law that it was taxable income if so obtained. He contends also that he did not willfully attempt to evade or defeat the tax. Petitioner was found guilty by a jury in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, fined $10,000 and sentenced to four years in prison. The Court of Appeals affirmed, one judge dissenting. 189 F.2d 431. We granted certiorari, 342 U.S. 808, 72 S.Ct. 50, so as to pass upon the alleged conflict between that decision and the decision in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Wilcox, 327 U.S. 404, 66 S.Ct. 546, 90 L.Ed. 752.

The facts are unusual but there can be no doubt that, under the instructions given the jury, we must regard its verdict as reflecting its conclusion that the $250,000 was obtained by petitioner by extortion.3 There was substantial evidence supporting that result. Reinfeld's first association with petitioner was in 1929 with several others in a bootlegging operation known as the 'High seas venture.' It was accomplished through the use of a ship in the sale of whiskey at sea more than 12 miles from shore. Reinfeld testified that petitioner contributed no money to the enterprise but was taken in because Reinfeld's associates were afraid that otherwise they would get 'in-

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terference and trouble' from petitioner. His interest was recognized to be 6% but, when the venture was liquidated in 1933, he already was overdrawn and no distribution was made to him. Without including petitioner, the others then organized Browne Vintners Co., Inc., a New York corporation, to engage in the liquor business. In 1936 petitioner, without making an investment, claimed a 6% interest in Browne Vintners. Despite Reinfeld's denial of petitioner's claim, Reinfeld paid him $60,000 and took from him an assignment of 'any and all of such shares of capital stock in the said Browne Vintners Co. Inc., that I am entitled to.' In 1940 all the Browne Vintners stock was sold for $7,500,000 to a purchaser who also assumed $8,000,000 of the company's debts. The shares of stock when sold stood in the names of, and were transferred by, 'nominees' so as to conceal the identity of Reinfeld and the other beneficial owners. A capital gains tax upon the profits from these sales was paid by the respective nominees.4 Petitioner was neither a stock-

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holder of record nor a beneficial owner of any of the stock of the company at any time.

In 1941, in response to petitioner's request, Reinfeld gave him about $10,000 to help buy a tavern. When petitioner used the money for other purposes Reinfeld refused to finance him further and his 'trouble' with petitioner began. In 1942 petitioner again claimed that he had had an interest in Browne Vintners Company and that Reinfeld must give him $100,000 to help him pay his debts. Upon Reinfeld's refusal, petitioner threatened to kill him. From that time on, the record presents a lurid story of petitioner's unsatisfied demands upon Reinfeld for various sums up to $500,000, petitioner's threatening use of a gun and his repeated statements that he would kill Reinfeld and Reinfeld's family unless his demands were met. Finally, on May 11, 1943, in New Jersey, Reinfeld paid petitioner $250,000 in cash.5

Throughout this melodrama petitioner asserted that he was entitled to the payments he demanded from Reinfeld because of petitioner's alleged former interest in Browne Vinters Company. That interest never was identified by petitioner. Reinfeld and others testified positively that petitioner never had any such interest. Nevertheless, on May 11, Reinfeld handed to petitioner $250,000 in cash at the same time that Reinfeld paid $358,000 to Zwillman and Stacher representing their conceded interest in the proceeds of Browne Vintners stock. Petitioner, with Zwillman and Stacher, thereupon signed a 'general release.' It did not state the amounts paid but it did

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purport to release Reinfeld, Browne Vintners Company and others from all claims the signers had against them.

Under the jury's verdict, we accept the fact to be that petitioner had no basis for his claim to this $250,000 and that he obtained it by extortion. Accordingly, if proceeds of extortion constitute income taxable to the extortioner, his omission of it from his tax return was unlawful. The further factual issue whether, under all the surrounding circumstances, petitioner's omission of the $250,000 from his tax return amounted to a willful attempt to evade and defeat the tax is not open to review here. That issue is settled by the verdict of the jury supported by substantial evidence.6 It remains for us to determine the legal issue of whether money obtained by extortion is taxable to the extortioner under § 22(a).

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Under the instructions to the jury, extortion here meant that the $250,000 was paid to petitioner in response to his false claim thereto, his harassing demands therefor and his repeated threats to kill Reinfeld and Reinfeld's family unless the payment were made.7 Petitioner was unable to induce Reinfeld to believe petitioner's false and fraudulent claims to the money to be true. He induced Reinfeld to consent to pay the money by creating a fear in Reinfeld that harm otherwise would come to him and to his family. Reinfeld thereupon delivered his own money to petitioner. Petitioner's control over the cash so received was such that, in the absence of Reinfeld's unlikely repudiation of the transaction and demand for

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the money's return, petitioner could enjoy its use as fully as though his title to it were unassailable.

An unlawful gain, as well as a lawful one, constitutes taxable income when its recipient has such control over it that, as a practical matter, he derives readily realizable economic value from it. Burnet v. Wells, 289 U.S. 670, 678, 53 S.Ct. 761, 764, 77 L.Ed. 1439; Corliss v. Bowers, 281 U.S. 376, 378, 50 S.Ct. 336, 337, 74 L.Ed. 916. That occurs when cash, as here, is delivered by its owner to the taxpayer in a manner which allows the recipient freedom to dispose of it at will, even though it may have been obtained by fraud and his freedom to use it may be assailable by someone with a better title to it.

Such gains are taxable in the yearly period during which they are realized. This statutory policy is invoked in the interest of orderly administration. '(C)ollection of the revenue cannot be delayed, nor should the Treasury be compelled to decide when a possessor's claims are without legal warrant.' National City Bank v. Helvering, 2 Cir., 98 F.2d 93, 96. There is no adequate reason why assailable unlawful gains should be treated differently in this respect from assailable lawful gains. Certainly there is no reason for treating them more leniently. United States v. Sullivan, 274 U.S. 259, 263, 47 S.Ct. 607, 71 L.Ed. 1037.

There has been a widespread and settled administrative and judicial recognition of the taxability of unlawful gains of many kinds under § 22(a). 8 The application of

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this section to unlawful gains is obvious from its legislative history. Section II, subd. B of the Income Tax Act of 1913 provided that 'the net income of a taxable person shall include gains, profits, and income * * * from * * * the transaction of any lawful business carried on for gain or profit, or gains or profits and income derived from any source whatever * * *.' (Emphasis supplied.) 38 Stat. 167. In 1916, 39 Stat. 756, this was amended by omitting the one word 'lawful' with the obvious intent thereafter to tax unlawful as well as lawful gains, profits or income derived from any source whatever.9

There is little doubt now that where unlawful gains are secured by the fraud of the taxpayer they are taxable.10 In the instant case it is not questioned that the $250,000 would have been taxable to petitioner if he had obtained it by fraudulently inducing Reinfeld to believe petitioner's false claims to be true. That being so, it would be an extraordinary result to hold here that petitioner is to be tax free because his fraud was so transparent that it did not mislead his victim and his victim paid him the money because of fear instead of fraud.

We do not reach in this case the factual situation involved in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Wilcox, 327 U.S. 404, 66 S.Ct. 546, 90 L.Ed. 752. We limit that case to its facts. There embezzled funds were held not to constitute taxable income to the embezzler under § 22(a). The issue here is whether money extorted from a victim with his consent induced solely by harassing demands and threats of violence is included in the definition of gross income under § 22(a). We think...

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295 practice notes
  • Murphy v. Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, No. 138
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1964
    ...1611—1612; the state acts may be found in 8 Wigmore, Evidence, § 2281, n. 11 (McNaughton rev., 1961). 3. See also Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 139—147, 72 S.Ct. 571, 576—580, 96 L.Ed. 833 (BLACK, J., dissenting). The Senate Crime Committee stated in its third interim report: 'Any ......
  • U.S. v. Floresca, No. 92-5447
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • October 27, 1994
    ...be inappropriate to overrule it as circuit precedent. We do, however, limit the Bledsoe case to its facts, see Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 138, 72 S.Ct. 571, 576, 96 L.Ed. 833 (1952) (declining to overrule a distinguishable precedent, but limiting that precedent to its facts). No......
  • Cohen v. United States, No. 17503.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 12, 1962
    ...3. In the meantime, and long before the taxable years here in question, the Supreme Court had decided, in Rutkin v. United States, 1952, 343 U.S. 130, 72 S.Ct. 571, 96 L.Ed. 833, that moneys obtained by extortion were taxable income. In its opinion in Rutkin, the court re-asserted the princ......
  • Lucas v. Jerusalem Cafe, LLC, No. 12–2170.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 6, 2013
    ...lawful” they “would have to pay.” Id. “Certainly there is no reason for treating” the employers “more leniently.” Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 137, 72 S.Ct. 571, 96 L.Ed. 833 (1952). Like the Eleventh Circuit, we hold that aliens, authorized to work or not, may recover unpaid and ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
295 cases
  • Murphy v. Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, No. 138
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1964
    ...1611—1612; the state acts may be found in 8 Wigmore, Evidence, § 2281, n. 11 (McNaughton rev., 1961). 3. See also Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 139—147, 72 S.Ct. 571, 576—580, 96 L.Ed. 833 (BLACK, J., dissenting). The Senate Crime Committee stated in its third interim report: 'Any ......
  • U.S. v. Floresca, No. 92-5447
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • October 27, 1994
    ...be inappropriate to overrule it as circuit precedent. We do, however, limit the Bledsoe case to its facts, see Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 138, 72 S.Ct. 571, 576, 96 L.Ed. 833 (1952) (declining to overrule a distinguishable precedent, but limiting that precedent to its facts). No......
  • Cohen v. United States, No. 17503.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 12, 1962
    ...3. In the meantime, and long before the taxable years here in question, the Supreme Court had decided, in Rutkin v. United States, 1952, 343 U.S. 130, 72 S.Ct. 571, 96 L.Ed. 833, that moneys obtained by extortion were taxable income. In its opinion in Rutkin, the court re-asserted the princ......
  • Lucas v. Jerusalem Cafe, LLC, No. 12–2170.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 6, 2013
    ...lawful” they “would have to pay.” Id. “Certainly there is no reason for treating” the employers “more leniently.” Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 137, 72 S.Ct. 571, 96 L.Ed. 833 (1952). Like the Eleventh Circuit, we hold that aliens, authorized to work or not, may recover unpaid and ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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