By Tom Brown
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) - A British-born Florida yacht broker and former client of Swiss bank UBS AG received a reduced, two-month prison sentence for tax fraud on Friday because he cooperated with a U.S. investigation into the bank.
It was the third case in two weeks in which a former client of UBS was treated with relative leniency because he had aided a federal investigation of the Swiss bank and its ties with wealthy Americans, who evaded taxes by hiding money in secret, offshore accounts.
Robert Moran, a slim, balding 58-year-old U.S. citizen born in Leicester, England, appeared shaken when U.S. District Judge James Cohn announced the jail term. The two-month prison term was to be followed by one year of probation.
Moran had faced a maximum three-year prison term. Prosecutors, citing his substantial cooperation with U.S. authorities, sought a sentence of no more than seven months.
"The defendant did produce timely, significant and complete assistance to the government," Cohn said in pronouncing sentence.
But the judge, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Fort Lauderdale, added: "I think the public has become weary about people with all the trappings of success deceiving other investors, or in this case, the government."
Moran, a resident of Lighthouse Point, Florida, and a citizen since 1994, pleaded guilty in April to failing to report his offshore account at UBS, where he had been concealing more than $3 million in assets from the U.S. tax authorities.
In Friday's sentencing, the judge said Moran had already paid financial penalties to the government totaling nearly $1.9 million, including a fine equivalent to half the highest total of his foreign accounts.
His guilty plea in April was the first by a U.S. client of the Swiss wealth management giant. Authorities said it added momentum to the U.S. investigation of UBS, which formally ended in August when the bank agreed to turn over the names of 4,450 wealthy U.S. clients with undisclosed offshore accounts.
"I'M VERY SORRY"
Before the sentence, Moran expressed remorse.
"I'm very sorry for opening this foreign bank account and not declaring it. I assure you that I will never be in this position again," he said, speaking haltingly and with a British accent
The judge deferred the start of his prison sentence until January 4.
Handing down the two-month prison sentence, Judge Cohn said: "Why does one open an offshore bank account? ... I find that offshore accounts are set up for one reason, it's not necessarily the amount involved, but it is the deception".
Moran's defense attorney Gary Bagliebter said his client had provided "voluntary and early cooperation" in the government's probe into what he called "this tawdry affair known as UBS".
Moran's Florida-based yacht company faces possible bankruptcy because he expects to be stripped of his broker's license.
Bagliebter said this would mean the demise of "an international powerhouse in the yacht brokerage business."
The website of Fort Lauderdale-based Moran Yacht and Ship, which lists Moran as its president and also has business offices in Moscow and Antibes, France, bills it as "without doubt the yachting industry leader for the sale, construction and charter of large yachts throughout the world."
(The case is no 0:09-cr-60089 JIC in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in Fort Lauderdale)
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher, Gary Hill)