(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.
(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.
CHICAGO — H. Ty Warner, creator of Beanie Babies plush toys, pleaded guilty to failing to pay taxes on money he hid in a Swiss bank account.
Warner, charged last month with a single count of tax evasion, entered his plea here Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras.
"I am pleading guilty because I am guilty," Warner, 69, told the judge.
Warner agreed to pay a civil penalty of almost $53.6 million. Tax evasion is punishable by as long as five years in prison. He also faces a fine of as much as $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 15.
Since 2009, the United States has prosecuted about 70 U.S. taxpayers and 30 bankers, lawyers and advisers in a crackdown on offshore tax evasion. The sole owner of TY Inc., Warner held the highest account balance of the taxpayers prosecuted in the crackdown.
He admitted to failing to report $3.2 million in income on a secret UBS AG account that held as much as $93.6 million.
Warner falsely reported his 2002 income as $49.1 million, omitting money he made from the account and, while he amended his 2002 return in 2007, he understated his tax by $885,300, according to court papers.
While Wednesday's plea was tied to the 2002 taxes, the total amount not reported was about $25 million over 11 years, for which Warner owed about $5 million in taxes, according to a plea agreement cited by the judge.
Warner founded Ty Inc. in 1985. Beanbag-like teddy bears made in limited editions by the Westmont, Ill.-based company inspired devotees and collectors while building a $4.5 billion business, according to a biography supplied by his legal team.
Since 1995, Warner has donated almost $140 million in cash and plush toys to charities and organizations.
A plush purple bear with an embroidered white rose, issued in honor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 today bears a list price of $350,316 or best offer on eBay Inc.'s auction website. In a separate listing, a lot of 95 Beanie Babies plus a Diana bear are selling for $150,000.
In 1996, Warner opened a secret account at UBS, according to the U.S. From there, he transferred $93.6 million in December 2002 to another secret Swiss account at Zurcher Kantonalbank, according to a charging document.
Warner disguised his ownership of the ZKB account by holding it under an entity called the Molani Foundation, according to court papers. In 2002, he failed to report his UBS income of $3.2 million to his outside accountants, and failed to file a required Foreign Bank Account Report.
The tax return he filed with the IRS for 2002 also was false, according to the charging papers.
In 2009, Warner tried to avoid prosecution through the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, according to his lawyer, Gregory Scandaglia. He was denied entry.
"This is an unfortunate situation that Mr. Warner has been trying to resolve for several years now," Scandaglia said in a statement when the charge was announced. "Mr. Warner accepts full responsibility for his actions with this plea agreement."
_ With assistance from David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey.