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Taking on the Feds

Mitchell Fuerst knows that the best strategy for certain tax problems is taking on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). But sometimes a tax issue results from a mistake in navigating the complex web of federal regulations or is a symptom of a deeper problem within the business. Like an experienced physician, Fuerst knows how to diagnose the real problem and recommend an appropriate remedy.
“My practice has grown through the years,” says Fuerst, a founding member of Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph, PL and the firm’s managing partner. “But there is one common element. In representing businesses, the federal government will be on the other side of the case.”

Starting with tax law and litigation, Fuerst’s practice has expanded into administrative law and litigation with federal agencies, as well as international tax issues, business transactions and mergers and acquisitions. That cross-pollenization gives Fuerst a broader perspective when advising clients.

“Some lawyers are knowledgeable but not litigators,” says Matthew Feshbach, founder and CEO, Okyanos Heart Institute in Clearwater. “On the other hand, Mitchell is tremendously analytical as well as a very aggressive and successful litigator. We have referred a number of clients to him in areas from stem cell research to real estate to international tax work.”

With more than 30 years of experience in the tax and administrative sectors, Fuerst understands the difficulties that arise when dealing with federal agencies. For example, a client who fails to comply with U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations can wind up in front of the U.S. Tax Court facing a team of seasoned IRS attorneys.

Let’s say a U.S. company hires a U.S. design firm and spends $10 million to develop plans for a product that will be manufactured by a factory in China or India. Naturally, the company deducts that $10 million expense from its corporate tax bill. But when those China-made products come ashore at a U.S. port, that $10 million must be added to the products’ value for Customs purposes. “If you take a tax deduction, but don’t pay the added duty, the IRS could come to you and ask, ‘Which of these documents is fraudulent?’ You never want to be in that position,” Fuerst says.

In fact, the risks of non-compliance — with taxes, customs duties or food and drug safety regulations — are extremely high now, adds Fuerst. “We are now in a cycle of strong IRS, FDA and FTC enforcement that will continue for another year or two at least. Right now there is tremendous pressure to generate revenue for the government, and non-compliance is less tolerated at any level.”

A Lifelong Love of the Law

Born in New York in 1953, Fuerst decided to become a lawyer when he was five years old. “I always watched ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘The Defenders’ on TV and never thought about any other career,” he says. “As a career, it’s been a great fit for me. I am naturally argumentative, for one thing, and I get to exercise my intellect. For instance, I got a wonderful education on the inner workings of hedge funds the other day during the deposition of a defendant.”

Fuerst adds that another advantage of being a lawyer is having control over your career. “You can start off in one field, and then move to another as your interests change,” he says. “If you spend time litigating cases, the fundamental skills of learning a case and articulating a client’s position will carry you across many other areas of the law.”

Fuerst earned his bachelor’s degree at American University in Washington, DC, and enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law. “While clerking at a local firm, one of the partners told me I should have gone to the University of Florida, because it produced most of the state’s judges and political leaders,” Fuerst says. “I felt that as the son of a bagel maker going to school in Miami, I would have to fight to build my career. I knew I wanted to be a litigator so I chose to focus on tax law, because it’s an area where what you know is more important than who you know. After all, the U.S. Tax Court is a national court whose decisions affect taxpayers throughout the U.S. and aboard.”

After graduation, Fuerst worked as a trial attorney with the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Chief Counsel in Chicago. Six years later, having moved to Miami, Fuerst entered private practice, concentrating on tax and tax litigation from the defendant’s perspective.

“Throughout my career, I have engaged many attorneys and I can tell you unequivocally that Mitch Fuerst is the best there is,” says Herb Hirsch, president of Hirsch Enterprises, a New York real estate developer. “He can be tough when he needs to be and a lovable teddy bear when it suits his purpose. No one can push him around. He has the knowledge, experience and creativity needed to overcome all the many intricacies and complexities of the tax laws. He takes lemons and makes them into lemonade.”

Addressing Complex Issues

Since founding his own practice in 1988, Fuerst has helped clients in many aspects of the law. He has advised computer parts distributors about the complications associated with Brazilian customs regulations, briefed Chinese aquaculture farmers on developments in U.S. import law, advised domestic financial institutions about the PATRIOT Act and represented food and drug product manufacturers and importers under indictment in Federal District Court.
A member of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers and The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Fuerst has also been an adjunct professor in the University of Miami School of Law’s Master’s Degree program in Taxation, and spent four years as outside general counsel for Future Tech International, Inc., in Miami.

Since opening his own firm in 1988, Fuerst has built a worldwide practice while raising two sons and a daughter with his wife, Manya. He enjoys traveling and spending time with his family, but has no plans to retire. “I’ve been practicing law for 35 years and I figure I’m about halfway done,” he says. “I like helping my clients and I really enjoy learning more about the law.”

On the personal side, Fuerst is a student of American history who has read hundreds of books about Abraham Lincoln, the abolition movement and the Civil War. “What intrigues me the most about the Civil War,” he says, “is that this was the only time in our history where one side fought to the death for the benefit of a group of people they didn’t particularly care about. Northern whites went off to war to free black people from slavery, although they had no personal or economic interest in doing so. I think it shows the power of a moral commitment — something we still need today.”

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