The Tax Man Skimmeth: Could I Trust an Accountant Who Once Stole $1.2M?

But what did I believe? It seemed unlikely that anyone would give him fiduciary power again, making a repeat of his exact sort of mistake equally unlikely. But might he make another? Was this man somehow wired to self-destruct?

In the process of doing due diligence, I discovered some information that gave me pause. When he was hired, Mr. Rubenoff told Mr. Cohen he had lost his CPA license because of his criminal record. But the New York State Board for Public Accountancy has no record of him ever having been licensed. When I mentioned this to Mr. Rubenoff, he confessed to having lied. “My bad,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was a technicality. I never followed up on some continuing education.” Mr. Rubenoff said he had falsified the information to make himself sound more marketable. “It was a little bit of ego,” he said. “It’s always going to be there a little bit, but it’s not the monster it once was.”

As it turned out, this information was a revelation to Mr. Cohen as well. “Wow,” he said when I told him. “I didn’t know that.” He said the untruth might have made a difference when he first met Mr. Rubenoff, but less so now, because clients were so happy with his employee.

Mr. Cohen said that unlike the office’s younger CPAs, Mr. Rubenoff is never stumped, even when it comes to unusual tax issues, like the Schedule F form used by farmers and fishermen to file their taxes. “When Schedule F came up, he said, ‘Big deal—I used to do this in my old firm all the time,’” said Mr. Cohen.

My concerns remained, but April 15 was looming and I didn’t have any better ideas—and I was also swayed by Mr. Cohen’s position. It also seemed I might be getting a bargain; normally, an accountant of Mr. Rubenoff’s stature and skill would be busy finding tax loopholes for moguls like Mr. Vultaggio, not deductions for freelance writers.

So I stuck with Mr. Rubenoff, which turned out to be a profitable move. Thanks to him, we learned that my mother’s wheelchair-accessible van, rehab stay after a broken hip and 24-hour caretaker were all deductible. In the end, we wound up owing several thousand less than we had originally expected. Sometimes gambling does pay.

editorial@observer.com