For 35 years, U.S. taxpayers facing serious fines and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have turned to Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL, for help in resolving their disputes.
“We represent all kinds of individuals, from business men and women to politicians to athletes and musicians,” said Alan L. Weisberg, managing partner, who founded the firm in 1981. “They are all human beings going through a crisis in life that affects their liberty and finances. This is a high-stakes practice.”
The firm’s attorneys provide counseling to clients considering their options, and represent them administratively before the IRS, in U.S. Tax Court, the United States District Court, or when a tax controversy leads to criminal charges.
“We have a unique practice here,” said partner Dennis G. Kainen. “There are many superb tax lawyers in Miami who are not comfortable going to court or litigating up the chain with the IRS. At the same time, there are excellent criminal defense lawyers here who don’t feel comfortable taking on a tax case.”
The firm’s third partner, Brielle L. Mark, focuses on counseling U.S. taxpayers with overseas accounts and foreign nationals with U.S. tax obligations. “We have a great team with different areas of strength,” she said.
Dennis Keinen, Brielle Mark and Alan Weisberg
Offshore Tax Issues
In recent years, the firm has handled a growing number of civil tax controversies, including clients with issues related to the IRS’ Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). “This is a good program for individuals who have not disclosed their foreign assets, but there can be very harsh consequences,” Weisberg said. “We advise them of their options and do everything we can to protect them appropriately.”
Under the OVDP, you have to report your foreign bank accounts or other accounts you control,” Weisberg said. “Although you may not need to pay U.S. tax, legally the penalties for not reporting can be draconian — up to 300 percent of the highest amount in the account or even more. The OVDP lets you disclose your accounts, pay your taxes and receive a reduced penalty. It’s not painless, but it can be much better than hiding funds from the IRS and then getting caught.”
Foreign clients have other misconceptions about the Internal Revenue Code, said Weisberg. “They think that if they report their foreign income in a foreign country and their U.S. income in the U.S., they are fully compliant,” he said. “But a U.S. citizen or resident (green card holder) has to report their worldwide income. You will still get credits for taxes paid in that foreign country, but Uncle Sam wants to know everything you made.”
In their practice, Weisberg, Kainen and Mark represent many foreign nationals who are considered U.S. residents for tax purposes. “There are many immigrants in Miami who have had to leave their homelands, and don’t understand our tax system,” said Kainen, who is the firm’s primary litigator.
The partners work closely with certified public accountants (CPAs) to identify tax issues and potential solutions for their clients. “Sometimes it’s in the client’s best interest to say no to the IRS, rather than take a conciliatory attitude,” Kainen said. “And the truth of a tax matter is not enough – you will have to prove the case.”
For example, Kainen recently represented the family of a 94-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease. “An IRS agent had decided she was responsible for failing to report a foreign bank account, and wanted to assess a $1.2 million penalty,” he said. “To prove our case, I brought in a neurologist and neuropsychologist. Then we went to her home and videotaped her in her bedroom. She couldn’t remember the names of her children, let alone anything about her finances. When I showed the tape to the appeals officers, the penalty was dropped.”
The Partners’ Backgrounds
Growing up in Kentucky, Weisberg knew he wanted to be a lawyer at an early age. “My father was in the real estate business, and I would go down to the county courthouse and watch lawyers in court. I wanted to represent real people, with real problems.” Weisberg earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Indiana University, and a law degree from American University. “I wanted to get a master’s in taxation and the University of Miami had one of the best programs in the country,” said Weisberg, who earned his LL.M. in taxation in 1974.
From there, Weisberg entered private practice, joining the tax department of Cunningham and Weinstein. The U.S. attorney’s office was in the same downtown Miami building, and three and a half years later, Weisberg moved to the public sector, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Major Crimes Section, Fraud and Public Corruption Section, and the Civil Division. “That was great experience and training for me,” Weisberg said. “It gave me the foundation to start my own firm. I had clients from day one, and the practice just kept growing.”
In 1984, Weisberg found himself faced with two long trials. “That’s a situation that can kill a solo practice because you’re not able to generate new business,” he said. “So I hired Dennis, who had been in the Federal Public Defender’s office.. It was a great decision and we’ve worked together for more than 30 years.”
Like Weisberg, Kainen had always wanted to be a lawyer. He grew up in Miami Beach, where his mother Sarita was a legal secretary. He earned his bachelor’s degree in international affairs at George Washington University and his law degree from the University of Miami. He then worked as an assistant federal public defender for three years, before joining Weisberg’s firm. “I loved that job, but the best way to grow was to explore private practice,” he said.
A fluent Spanish speaker with family roots in Peru, Kainen soon added an international dimension to the firm’s tax controversy practice. He also passed those Spanish language skills to sons Elan and Samuel, and improved the fluency of his wife Deborah.
Weisberg’s daughter Brielle Mark grew up watching her father practice law. “I worked here in high school answering the phone and filing papers for my dad and Dennis,” she said. “I never thought I’d be working here as a career.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations at Colgate University and her law degree at New York University in 2003. She then worked in the New York and Miami offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP handling corporate transactional matters for four years.
“I met my husband Etan Mark in law school, and we both felt that Miami had a higher quality of life,” she said. They moved here and married in 2005, and now have two children, Charlotte and Oliver. “I began handling large corporate and real estate finance deals representing major corporations and institutional lenders with my firm. It was excellent training, but I wanted something more satisfying for my career.”
In 2007, Mark joined Weisberg and Kainen as an associate and was named partner in 2013. “I enjoy helping our clients, who often are small business owners facing very stressful tax situations,” she said. “It’s also great practicing in an office that has a real feeling of family.”
That sense of family includes Weisberg’s son Quinton Weisberg, who joined the firm as an associate in 2015 after earning his law degree from Nova Southeastern University. “It is a great pleasure to be practicing law with my son and daughter,” said Weisberg.
Professional and Community Leadership
The firm’s three partners have all served as leaders in professional and community organizations. Kainen was president of the Dade County Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association’s Miami chapter, as well as a member of the board of governors of The Florida Bar and the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. He has also been active with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), serving as Florida chairman and national commissioner. “Community involvement is crucial for lawyers,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make our community better, and it’s also a lot of fun.”
Mark has also been active in the ADL and the “Put Something Back” pro bono project of the Dade County Bar Association.
Weisberg has served as president of several legal and tax related organizations including the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association, the Greater Miami Tax Institute, and the Assistant United States Attorney’s Association. He also was the chairman of the Bayfront Park Management Trust. “My son and I recently started Nets for Kids, which provides funds for basketball nets in schools and parks,” he said. ‘It makes the sports experience better for kids, and encourages them to take part in positive recreational activities.”
Looking ahead, Weisberg says he’s never been happier being a lawyer. “It was never my ambition to build a big law firm,” he said. “We have also turned down several offers to join big firms, because we are very happy with our current practice. Every day we are faced with a new challenge, and that keeps us growing as lawyers.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition