N.J. man pleads guilty to hiding $5M from IRS in Swiss bank

The wealthy owner of a New Jersey building material firm pleaded guilty to tax evasion Friday, becoming the fifth suspect caught in the widening Justice Department hunt for Americans who have hidden assets offshore in secret Swiss bank accounts.

In a Newark federal court hearing, Juergen Homann, 66, admitted he concealed more than $5 million from the IRS by failing to file a special tax form in 2007 disclosing his account at Swiss banking giant UBS. He also acknowledged he failed to list the account and income received from it on his 2007 tax return.

Homann, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Germany, pleaded guilty in an appearance before U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler, in which he agreed to cooperate in the investigation of Swiss banks, attorneys and financial advisers who help Americans hide untaxed income offshore.

His attorneys, Cynthia Eddy and Robert Ridge, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Homann told the judge his company supplies minerals and chemicals, primarily to China, said Gregory Reinert, a spokesman for acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra in New Jersey.

In court filings, federal prosecutors said Homann originally opened his UBS account in 1980 under the name of a foundation in Liechtenstein, a historic tax haven. He later transferred the account to ELM Finance Limited, a sham corporation in Hong Kong that held approximately $6.1 million in assets from 2001 through 2008, the filings showed.

Prosecutors said Homann hid more than $5 million of that total with the aid of a Swiss banker whose name was not disclosed and Matthias Rickenbach, a Swiss attorney indicted in August on charges of conspiring to defraud the IRS by helping U.S. clients evade taxes.

Jeffrey Chernick, a wealthy New York businessman and UBS client who pleaded guilty in a similar tax evasion case last month, was also a Rickenbach client.

Homann faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and at least a $250,000 fine at a sentencing hearing Chesler scheduled for Jan. 6. In a plea agreement filed Friday, prosecutors said they may recommend lesser penalties if Homann continues to cooperate.

Prosecutors cited Homann's guilty plea as an example as they urged other Americans with secret offshore accounts to come forward under an IRS voluntary disclosure program that offers leniency. Saying that the program has drawn more than 3,000 applicants, the IRS on Tuesday extended the filing deadline until Oct. 15.

Adding to the pressure to come forward, UBS has started notifying nearly 4,500 American clients that their account information may be turned over to the IRS following Swiss judicial reviews. The bank agreed to disclose the information following federal court battles with the Justice Department and IRS.