What Could $150 Billion in Unpaid Taxes Buy?

ByABC News via logo
August 2, 2006, 9:41 AM

Aug. 2, 2006 — -- Everyone's heard of offshore tax havens -- shell games on far-flung islands that save the already-rich millions of dollars.

A new Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report details the extent of such elaborate and lucrative tax-evasion schemes. The investigation has left even seasoned senators stunned.

"Something smells here. Something is rotten here," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who sits on the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

"The abuse of offshore tax havens by U.S. individuals are shifting the tax burden to all of us," Levin said. "The report blows the lid off tax haven abuses."

'Each scheme is different, but according to Citizens for Tax Justice, it's estimated that tax-evading individuals and corporation cost the government as much as $150 billion a year.

That's enough money to cover the budgets for the Department of Education, the State Department, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Or to purchase 60 Virginia-class nuclear subs. Or enough to give $500 to every American.

Hollywood media mogul Haim Saban, creator of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" TV show, is one of a number of high-profile individuals targeted in the investigation.

He's reached a deal with the IRS to pay back taxes.

"I asked my adviser, is this completely kosher, i.e., legal, and would a reputable law firm say so," Saban said.

Texas tycoons Charles and Sam Wyly, big-time Republican backers, are also being investigated for setting up offshore tax-free trusts, which saved them from paying at least $190 million.

They used the money to buy things like a $287,000 painting.

Experts say the IRS simply can't keep up with the evaders.

"They're playing what we call the audit lottery because you only have a 1 percent chance of getting caught," said Bob McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice.

"You've got this incredible wealth, and they're still trying to write off their furniture, their artwork on the wall, their jewelry. I mean, what's wrong [with] these people?"