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Prison for Whistleblower; Probation for $6 Million Tax Cheater

The 60 Minutes segment was called "A Crack in the Vault." That "vault" contained all the billions and billions that wealthy Americans stowed in Swiss bank accounts, with the assistance of UBS, in order to cheat on taxes. And the person who cracked the vault was Bradley Birkenfeld, who gave American investigators the leads they needed to catch UBS. Last February, it led to the bank's having to pay $800 million to settle the case, which was in Fort Lauderdale's federal court.

Birkenfeld, a UBS banker, was not a perfect hero -- if such a thing ever existed.

He didn't bother telling the feds about how he helped one of his own clients cheat on taxes. But clearly, that sin is nothing next to the good deed he performed on behalf of American taxpayers.

Yet Birkenfeld was sentenced to 40 months in prison this week. And today, one of the fat cats who was helped by that sinister UBS program, New Jersey's Juergen Homann, who pleaded guilty to hiding roughly $6 million in Swiss bank accounts, received probation.

To paraphrase the argument made by Birkenfeld's attorney in the 60 Minutes piece, this isn't simply a case where a single man was treated unfairly. It acts as a deterrent to all future whistleblowers who find themselves in Birkenfeld's position: knowing of some illicit, corrupt activity but having a measure of their own guilt. Having seen what happened to Birkenfeld, why would such an invaluable source call the law?

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Thomas Francis

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