As a private banker at Swiss banking giant UBS, Bradley Birkenfeld was hip high in a multi-billion-dollar scheme to help wealthy Americans dodge income taxes through secret accounts at Switzerland's largest bank.
But when the 44-year-old American blew the whistle on UBS, he laid the foundation for the federal government's most devastating assault ever on Swiss banking secrecy and offshore tax cheats.
Federal prosecutors disclosed in court papers Tuesday that "more than 150 Americans across the country" are under criminal investigation for hiding income at UBS, based on records UBS released to avoid criminal charges.
As valuable witnesses go, Birkenfeld takes the cake. At a sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch Friday, assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey A. Neiman will recommend that Birkenfeld get 30 months in prison for his conviction on one count of conspiracy to defraud the government — down from the 60-month maximum sentence he is exposed to — because of his extensive cooperation.
Zloch has delayed Birkenfeld's sentencing four times at the request of prosecutors who are continuing to debrief him, but last week turned down a fifth request.
Birkenfeld, the son of a Boston neurosurgeon, had achieved an enviable lifestyle at UBS. As a private banker, the tall and athletic bon vivant, who sometimes sports a goatee, jetted across the Atlantic and kept an Alpine chalet overlooking the Matterhorn.
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