DOJ Charges Texas Billionaire in $2 Billion Tax Fraud Scheme

October 18, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO—Federal prosecutors have charged Texas billionaire Robert Brockman with tax fraud in an alleged $2 billion scheme they say is the largest such case against an American.

Department of Justice officials said at a news conference that Brockman, 79, hid capital gains income over 20 years through a web of offshore entities in Bermuda and Nevis, and secret bank accounts in Bermuda and Switzerland. Prosecutors said the CEO of a private equity firm that aided in the schemes would cooperate with the investigation.

The 39-count indictment unsealed Oct. 15 charges Brockman, the chief executive officer of Ohio-based software company Reynolds and Reynolds Co., with tax evasion, wire fraud, money laundering, and other offenses.

Prosecutors also announced that Robert F. Smith, founder and chairman of Vista Equity Partners, will cooperate in the investigation and pay $139 million to settle his own tax inquiry. Smith, 57, stunned a senior class last year when he promised to wipe out the student loan debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College, a historically black all-male college.

philanthropist Robert F. Smith
Billionaire technology investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith announces he will provide grants to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19, 2019. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

“Complexity will not hide crime from law enforcement. Sophistication is not a defense to federal criminal charges,” said David L. Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. “We will not hesitate to prosecute the smartest guys in the room.”

Brockman appeared in federal court from Houston via Zoom on Oct. 15. He entered a plea of not guilty to all counts and was released on $1 million bond, said Abraham Simmons, spokesman for the Northern District of California.

“Mr. Brockman has pled not guilty, and we look forward to defending him against these charges,” his attorney, Kathryn Keneally, said in an email.

Prosecutors said Brockman used encrypted emails with code names, including Permit, Snapper, Redfish and Steelhead, to carry out the fraud and ordered evidence to be manipulated or destroyed.

Brockman, a resident of Houston and Pitkin County, Colorado, is chairman and CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds, a 4,300-employee company near Dayton, Ohio, that sells accounting, sales and management software to auto dealerships. The software helps set up websites, including live chats with potential customers, find loans and calculate customer payments, manage payroll and pay bills.

Reynolds & Reynolds issued a statement saying the allegations were outside Brockman’s work with the company and that the company isn’t alleged to have participated in any wrongdoing.

In 2013, a charitable trust set up by Brockman’s late father withdrew a pledged $250 million donation to Centre College, a small liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky, where Brockman attended class and once served as chairman of the board of trustees.

At the time, the school said it was due to a “significant capital market event” that didn’t pan out. A spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds said in 2013 that the event was a proposed refinancing deal involving Vista Equity Partners, Smith’s company.

According to the indictment, Brockman gave an unnamed individual detailed instructions regarding the proposed gift to the college, including talking points, and directed the person to threaten to pull out if his demands weren’t met. In August, he instructed the person to cancel the gift.

Prosecutors say that Smith used about $2.5 million in untaxed funds to buy and upgrade a vacation home in Sonoma, California; purchase two ski properties in France; and spend $13 million to buy a property and fund charitable activities at his property in Colorado.

philanthropist Robert F. Smith
Billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith speaks after receiving the W.E.B. Dubois Medal for contributions to black history and culture, during ceremonies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Anderson applauded Smith for stepping up, despite the serious nature of his crimes, which occurred from 2000 to mid-2015.

“Smith’s agreement to cooperate has put him on a path away from indictment,” he said.

In 2019, Smith announced to the graduating class at Morehouse that he would pay off the student loan debt of the entire class, saying that he expected the graduates to “pay it forward.” The estimated cost was $40 million.

Forbes lists Smith at No. 461 on its billionaires list, with a net worth of more than $5 billion.

He founded the tech investment firm Vista in 2000 and Forbes reports that it now has more than $50 billion in assets and is “one of the best-performing private equity firms, posting annualized returns of 22% since inception.” Vista has offices in San Francisco and Oakland.

Vista didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

By Janie Har