By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The billionaire creator of Beanie Babies, Ty Warner, could face up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in Chicago federal court on Tuesday on his guilty plea for tax evasion.
Warner, 69, who in 2013 was ranked as the 209th richest American by Forbes, "went to great lengths" to hide from his accountants and the Internal Revenue Service more than $3.1 million in foreign income generated in a secret Swiss bank account, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago.
Warner pleaded guilty to the charge in October and has agreed to pay a civil penalty of nearly $53.6 million for failure to file a Foreign Bank Account Report, according to court documents.
Prosecutors have asked for prison time for Warner, citing sentences given in similar cases. Warner's attorneys want probation, noting in a court document his unhappy childhood, charity work and acceptance of responsibility.
Warner was charged as part of an ongoing investigation of U.S. taxpayer clients of Union Bank of Switzerland and other overseas banks that hid foreign accounts from the IRS, according to prosecutors. UBS agreed in 2009 as part of a deferred prosecution program to provide the U.S. government with the identities of certain customers, prosecutors said.
The federal charge alleges that in 2002, Warner earned more than $3.1 million through investments held in his UBS account but did not tell his accountants and failed to report it on his 2002 tax form. He failed to pay $885,300 in taxes owed for 2002, according to federal officials.
Beanie Babies, small plush toys sold for $5 to $7, have been popular with collectors. At their peak of popularity in the 1990s, some collectors would pay hundreds of dollars for a rare character on the resale market, according to press accounts.
Warner's net worth was listed as $2.6 billion in 2013, according to Forbes. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Ken Wills)