Finn M. W. Caspersen, heir to the Beneficial Corporation fortune, was a patron of Harvard and Princeton and gave away tens of millions of dollars to charity.  He was active in New Jersey politics.  Mr. Caspersen served on the Dean’s Advisory Council at Harvard Law School.  As Lynnley Browning wrote in the New York Times on September 16, 2009:

"He seemed, in many ways, like a man from another time, a Gatsbyesque figure who glided through a world of old money, private clubs and pedigree horses, his family name emblazoned on Ivy League halls."

Mr. Caspersen’s life ended tragically on Labor Day when he shot himself in the head at Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Westerly, Rhode Island.   

No one can be sure why Finn Caspersen ended his life.  He had been suffering from kidney cancer.  But the New York Times reports that at the time of his death, Mr. Caspersen may have been using secret offshore bank accounts to evade taxes.  Investigators were apparently building a case against him.  It is reported that he may have owed as much as $100 million in back taxes and penalties, and may have faced prison.  The Caspersen case apparently involves accounts in Liechtenstein, a leading offshore tax haven.  According to the New York Times, federal authorities recently placed liens on the personal trusts of Mr. Caspersen’s four sons.

In any event, it never ceases to amaze me how many super-wealthy Americans have tried to unlawfully evade U.S. income taxes by using "secret" offshore accounts.  Recent IRS actions are making these accounts less and less secret.  As I have said in a number of other posts, there is nothing inherently wrong with offshore accounts.  They can be valuable for a variety of reasons.  But they cannot be used for tax evasion.  Failing to report income and paying the appropriate tax can have disastrous consequences — both professionally and personally.

I highly recommend the full article by Lynnley Browning in the Business section of the September 16, 2009 New York Times.  It is a fascinating story about a real tragedy.