Zappers: Tax Fraud, Technology and Terrorist Funding

46 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2008

See all articles by Richard Thompson Ainsworth

Richard Thompson Ainsworth

NYU - Graduate Tax Program; Boston University - School of Law


"Zappers," or automated sales suppression devices, have brought unheard of efficiencies and economies of scale to a very simple tax fraud - skimming cash sales at point of sale (POS) terminals (electronic cash registers). Until recently the largest tax fraud case in Connecticut, also the "largest computer driven tax-evasion case in the nation," was a zapper case. Stew Leonard's Dairy in Norwalk Connecticut skimmed $17 million in receipts and hid the cash in St. Martin (a Caribbean island). Talal Chahine and his wife, Elfat El Aouar, owners of the La Shish restaurant chain in Detroit Michigan have the dubious honor of replacing Stew Leonard as the leading U.S. zapper fraud case. They zapped $20 million in cash sales and sent the funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Zapper frauds (like electronic cash registers) are not confined to the U.S. Zappers are also a significant problem in Canada, Brazil, Australia, and many countries in the EU. When the U.S. and foreign experiences are considered comparatively, it is not the similarity in the fraud-mechanism (the zapper) that is the most striking - it is the difference in the enforcement mechanism that catches one's attention. In both Canada and Brazil zappers were identified through consumption (not income) tax investigations, and this difference should suggest to U.S. policy-makers that important enforcement opportunities lay within a strengthened State-Federal audit exchange at the retail sales tax level.

This paper makes this income tax/retail sales tax connection, and extends it by opening up for consideration the enforcement opportunities that are available through certified tax software solutions under the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). An extension of the SSUTA is proposed through the adoption of German Working Group on Cash Register's proposal to use encryption and smart cards in ECRs and POS systems. A certified service provider (CSP) under the SSUTA (as extended) with current levels of technology, could easily be employed not only to assure the States that the correct retail sales tax was being collected and remitted, but also assure the federal government that cash sales were not being skimmed by zappers.

Keywords: Zapper, Technology, Consumption Tax, VAT, GST, retail sales tax, SSUTA, Zisky, Tax Fraud, INSIKA project, Fiscalis Committee, Cash Register Project Group, sales suppression, skimming, terrorist funding, ECR, POS systems, Quebec, Revenue Quebec, Working Group on Cash Reigisters

JEL Classification: H20, H26, H71, K00, K34, K42, O23, O33

Suggested Citation

Ainsworth, Richard Thompson, Zappers: Tax Fraud, Technology and Terrorist Funding. State and Local Tax Lawyer, 2008, Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 08-07, Available at SSRN:

Richard Thompson Ainsworth (Contact Author)

NYU - Graduate Tax Program ( email )

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