Ottaviano is one of those peculiar Americans who does not believe himself bound by United States tax law. Not content to subject only himself to the penalties that flow inevitably from this belief, Ottaviano marketed his views to others for his own financial gain. Through his company, Mid-Atlantic Trusts and Administrators, Ottaviano offered financial products he claimed would help others elude the IRS and have the government pay their debts.Mid-Atlantic‘s principal offering was the ―Pure Trust Organization (PTO), which Ottaviano marketed as a means to hide assets from creditors and the IRS. Although PTOs appeared to be legitimate trusts for which Ottaviano and his company would act as trustees, in actuality customers had unlimited access to and control over the accounts-which made them sham trusts. Mid-Atlantic charged customers $3,000 to start a PTO, after which the company would open a bank account for the customer, often using a false employer identification number and representing that someone other than the customer had ―created the PTO or exchanged assets into it. Mid-Atlantic would then give the customer a debit card, checkbooks, and the online account password, as well as stamps bearing the trustees‘ signatures, giving customers full control of the assets.To maintain the appearance of propriety, PTO customers‘ bank statements were mailed to Ottaviano‘s home before he forwarded them to customers. Mid-Atlantic also gave customers an elaborate binder of ―trust documents‖ with an ―official‖ section in the front and secret instructions in the back, behind a page prominently labeled ―KEEP THIS MANUAL PRIVATE. This section explained that customers could access money in the account whenever and however they wanted as long as they made it appear as if the trustees were making the decisions.Pages 2 - 3 of the Opinion
[W]hen the United States abandoned the gold standard in 1933, the country went bankrupt and the citizenry became debtors. At that point, the U.S. Treasury created secret accounts for each citizen, tied to Social Security numbers or birth certificates. By filing certain documents with the federal and state governments, a citizen could access his account and transform himself from debtor to creditor, forcing the U.S. Treasury to take out millions of dollars and pay off customers‘ ―public debts, such as mortgages, credit cards, taxes, and criminal fines and penalties.
OTTAVIANO: When I stipulated to the fake diploma, I did that based on the fact that I lied and I wanted to lessen the impact of it, and when I was cross-examined by your Honor and hammered on that issue-THE COURT: I didn‘t, Mr. Ottaviano. The transcript will speak for itself. Don‘t characterize it as hammering. I have a right to ask you questions, particularly, and I‘ll tell you why in a minute. But let me hear your position.
In this case, the District Court erred in questioning Ottaviano. It skeptically questioned him at length during his direct examination and, after the Government completed its thorough cross-examination, ―follow[ed] up on prosecutors‘ questions about Ottaviano‘s fake educational credentials with a barrage of its own. On redirect, the Court repeatedly interrupted again, challenging Ottaviano about his assertions and his witnesses‘ testimony. Then, at the end of redirect, the judge renewed his indignation about Ottaviano‘s false educational credentials, prodding him for approximately five pages of the trial transcript and inviting him to speculate on the ultimate issue in the case.The Government attempts to downplay the District Court‘s incursions. While it is easy to see how Ottaviano‘s testimony would have tested even the most patient jurist, that is no excuse for a judge to abandon his . . . proper role and assume that of an advocate. Adedoyin, 369 F.3d at 342 (internal quotation marks omitted).Notwithstanding the Circuit Court's reservations, it found that the prosecutors had "presented overwhelming evidence of Ottaviano‘s guilt at a lengthy trial, the great majority of which was conducted fairly and properly. Viewing the record as a whole, we cannot say that Ottaviano received an unconstitutional trial. Accordingly, we will affirm his judgment of conviction."