World-renowned magician David Copperfield has seemingly made the entire Statue of Liberty vanish into thin air, levitated over the Grand Canyon and sliced his former fiancée Claudia Schiffer in half.
But now, the master illusionist is accusing his former accountant and business manager of making some of his Canadian tax returns disappear. According to U.S. court documents, the affair has prompted the Canada Revenue Agency to threaten legal action against Mr. Copperfield, demanding $471,000 (U.S.) in back taxes and penalties.
The magician, who according to Forbes Magazine made $63-million last year, has filed a lawsuit in court in Los Angeles, alleging that his former accountant and business manager failed to ensure that Canadian tax returns were filed to account for money Mr. Copperfield made touring the country in 2008 and 2009.
The defendant in the case is Los Angeles-based accountant Robert Baral and his firm, R.C. Baral & Co. Inc., which bills itself as a "full service business management and entertainment accounting" firm. It also has an office in Vancouver, and advertises its ability to handle Canadian tax services.
According to the complaint, Mr. Copperfield's company, David Copperfield's Disappearing Inc., hired R.C. Baral to manage its affairs around 2008, with the relationship ending in 2014.
The lawsuit also alleges that R.C. Baral failed to notify Mr. Copperfield's company that the accountants that had previously managed his affairs had failed to file his 2007 Canadian tax return. Mr. Copperfield is demanding $471,000 in damages to cover the costs of the tax penalties and interest he says he faces from Ottawa.
In addition to the missing tax returns, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants also botched attempts to fix the problems. The lawsuit alleges R.C. Baral retained another unnamed Canadian accounting firm to handle the late filings, but signed a retainer agreement that "contained clauses grossly unfavourable" to Mr. Copperfield's company "without first consulting" Mr. Copperfield's lawyer.
Mr. Copperfield also alleges his former accountants failed to ensure that an unnamed Canadian law firm they hired on his behalf performed "timely" work. Then, they allegedly hired a second unnamed Canadian law firm to look into a malpractice suit, but failed to provide the new firm with documents in a "timely fashion."
He alleges his accountants "deliberately concealed" the problems from him, and that he only learned of his tax issues in 2013. His former accountants also failed to file other tax documents for his touring company, he alleges in the complaint, causing him to receive a threat of legal action from the Canada Revenue Agency in August, 2015.
The 59-year-old now performs three shows most weekends at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and has long been widely regarded as the world's top magician.
Born David Seth Kotkin in New Jersey before adopting his Dickensian stage name, he rose to worldwide fame while just in his 20s. Once a fixture of big star-studded U.S.-network TV specials in the 1980s, a few of his most famous illusions included making a Learjet vanish and escaping from Alcatraz. But lately, his pop culture presence has been more muted, as stunts by illusionists such as David Blaine and Criss Angel have received more attention.
Still, whatever tax headaches he may be facing, they are unlikely to cause Mr. Copperfield much grief. According to Forbes Magazine, he ranks as not just the world's highest-grossing magician, but among the wealthiest performers of any kind, with an estimated fortune in 2013 of $800-million.
About a decade ago, he bought a chain of 11 islands in the Bahamas that are home to an elite resort, where he has since played host to the likes of Oprah Winfrey. His massive collection of magic memorabilia, the International Museum & Library of the Conjuring Arts, includes artifacts from the legendary Harry Houdini and cost him, Mr. Copperfield has said, $200-million to assemble.
Neither side in the dispute responded to a request for comment.