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Whistleblower group urges UBS review

The UBS tax haven saga is slowly playing out, but some folks are upset with what they see as inequitable justice.

Last week, another client of the Swiss bank pleaded guilty to a $6.1 million tax fraud. After providing U.S. prosecutors with "substantial help" in their continuing criminal inquiry, 67-year-old Juergen Homann was sentenced on Wednesday to five years probation, a $60,000 fine and 300 hours of community service.

Two days later, a former Boeing Co. sales manager who admitted last October to using a UBS account to hide $1.86 million from the IRS was sentenced to a year of probation, including 180 days of house arrest. Roberto Cittadini, 68, also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. He already has handed over almost $1 million in a civil fine to the IRS for failing to file a Foreign Bank Account Report.

Meanwhile, the man credited with kick starting the U.S. government's massive offshore tax shelter case reported Friday to federal prison in Pennsylvania. Bradley Birkenfeld is scheduled to spend 40 months in the facility.

And that has Birkenfeld and others upset.

Too much time for the crime? Naturally, the former UBS official who, according to court filings by prosecutors, was the crucial factor leading to the criminal investigation of UBS, feels his sentence is too long.

"I gave them the biggest tax fraud case in the world. I exposed 19,000 international criminals. And I’m going to jail for that?" he asked during his first public interview on Jan. 3 with CBS' 60 Minutes, during which he also discussed Switzerland's culture of bank secrecy.

Birkenfeld clearly feels he's getting a bum rap, especially since so many of the UBS clients who did hide money from Uncle Sam have, so far, avoided jail time.

The Justice Department, however, believes Birkenfeld could have done more, like disclosing added details about his top client. And the judge agreed, refusing to reduce the former UBS employee's jail time.

Whistleblowers unite! Now a national group dedicated to encouraging and protecting whistleblowers has entered the fray, calling Birkenfield's jailing "an American tragedy.  A disgraceful miscarriage of justice. An insult to every honest American who must work hard and pay their taxes."

Stephen M. Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center and one of Birkenfeld's attorneys, says the court's refusal to reduce Birkenfeld's jail term is "grossly unfair" and contends it will "have a radical chilling effect on the willingness of other bankers to step forward and expose fraud."

The Center, through its Take Action advocacy program, is urging people to contact the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and request that the Birkenfeld case be reviewed and the decision to imprison him be reconsidered.

What do you think? Is Birkenfeld the fall guy for the thousands of U.S. taxpayers who hid money in offshore accounts? Or is his punishment just?

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