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Heiress avoids prison sentence after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return

Lacy Doyle, a granddaughter of a key executive in the Longines watch company, had pleaded guilty in May to filing a single false tax return in 2009.

Lacy Doyle, a wealthy heiress and art consultant from Manhattan and Long Island, dodged prison time in Manhattan federal court after pleading guilty Monday to filing a false tax return to dodge taxes on a $4 million inheritance she tried to keep hidden in a Swiss bank account for more than a decade.

Prosecutors wanted Doyle, 61, of Manhattan and Sag Harbor, a granddaughter of a key executive in the Longines watch company, to serve 6 months to a year in prison for conduct that was “solely the product of greed” to send a message to other wealthy taxpayers who try to hide money in tax shelters.

“The defendant has enjoyed a life of material and financial comfort about which most Americans can only dream,” they said in filings. “There is simply no other explanation for her crime, apart from a belief that the rules did not apply to her, and that she would not get caught.”

Doyle had pleaded guilty in May to filing a single false tax return in 2009, and U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter said even a short prison term was unnecessary, sentencing her instead to 8 months home confinement and 300 hours of community service. 

“I think that home detention, no matter how nice your home is, is punishment,” the judge said.

Doyle was accused of inheriting the secret account at Crédit Suisse from her father in 2003, not revealing it as executor on his estate tax returns, and hiring Beda Singenberger, a Swiss adviser who allegedly helped dozens of rich Americans hide assets, to set up a phony foundation to hold her money in a Swiss bank.

Prosecutors said Doyle later lied about the money in a deposition in a divorce proceeding, and received thousands of dollars in funds wired from the foundation that weren’t disclosed on her tax returns. The government began investigating in 2010 after obtaining a list of Singenberger’s clients and tax shelters.

Even after the investigation began, Doyle resisted producing documents relating to foreign accounts to a grand jury, claiming she had none. When she finally complied after extended litigation, records showed she controlled the foundation and its account had more than $3 million, according to the government.

Doyle’s lawyers said she had accepted responsibility by pleading guilty to filing one false tax return, was paying $238,000 in restitution, had suffered the “humiliation” of a conviction and deserved leniency because of her good deeds and efforts to aid others, including struggling artists whose careers she helped.

“Lacy Doyle has lived an unblemished life,” defense lawyer Fred Hafetz told the judge. “She has done an extraordinary amount of good.”

Doyle, in a brief statement, said, “I take full responsibility for my conduct. I deeply regret my actions.”

Prosecutors argued that other Singenberger clients got jail sentences, and urged the judge to send a message to someone who tried to “thumb her nose” at tax laws with a jail sentence, even if it was only 30 or 45 days.

“If the general public were to find out a person can do this and the result is home incarceration in a home in the Hamptons and community service, we don’t see it as having any deterrent effect,” prosecutor Jared Lenow said.

Carter rejected a defense request for Doyle to serve her time at a home in Florida, but said she would be able to leave her home for work.

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