He wrote the book on how to avoid income taxes -- literally -- and now Jerome Schneider and his attorney, Eric Witmeyer, have been indicted on one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, 14 counts of wire fraud, and eight counts of mail fraud.

The author of Hiding Your Money allegedly purchased shares of dormant companies with banking licenses in Nauru for clients. He then covered up the investors' ownership, thereby enabling them to evade U.S. income taxes, according to court documents.

Talk about throwing the book at tax evaders! As we begin to prepare for the April 2003 tax crunch, Fools know there are plenty of (legal) ways to reduce tax burdens.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Time for Whistleblowers

You'll be in for quite a surprise if you pick up a copy of Time today.

The venerable magazine named three whistleblowers as Persons of the Year for 2002, and two of them helped bring down Enron and WorldCom. The third exposed some gaffes committed at the FBI before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The Year of the Whistle-Blower" began when a congressional subcommittee released Sherron Watkins' memo to then-Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay in January. In that memo, Watkins told Lay that the company's accounting methods were improper.

In May, FBI staff attorney Coleen Rowley wrote a memo to Director Robert Mueller, detailing how the agency had ignored warnings from her office about Zacarias Moussaoui, who now sits in prison in connection with the attacks.

Finally, in June, Cynthia Cooper informed the WorldCom board of directors about the billions in losses hidden through fraudulent bookkeeping.

Time compares these three women to the New York City firefighters and police on 9/11: "Heroes at the scene, anointed by circumstance. They were people who did right just by doing their jobs rightly..."

The Time Person of the Year is usually a household name -- famous the world over. It's a pleasant surprise to see three rather obscure individuals receive the honor in 2002. Each stood up and did the right thing, at great personal cost, and at a time when none of them dreamed of any such accolades.

We salute all three and, from a financial point of view, Watkins and Cooper in particular. They represent the beginning of the end of the corporate culture of greed, excess, and deceit that came to a head at the height of the bull market. Significant reforms have come down the pike since their actions, with more still in the offing. They deserve some credit for that, and Time made sure they got it.

Quote of Note

"Our lives improve only when we take chances -- and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves." -- Walter Anderson (1903-1965), American artist

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

There are only two shopping days till Christmas, and you're still a few presents short. Never fear, the Fool is here -- with several ideas for the dawdling gift giver:

  • There's a magazine for every hobby, activity, and proclivity. Buy a subscription as a present; include the most recent issue, if easily available, as a nice addition.

  • Remember when you were a kid, and you gave your mom a "Do the dishes for a week" coupon for Christmas? Well, you're not too old to offer time and talent in lieu of trinkets and trifles.

  • Merchandise ordered over the phone or Internet won't arrive before Christmas, but don't rule out the perfect gift because of untimely delivery. Print out an online description to put in the stocking.

  • Give someone a picture frame with a photograph of something meaningful to the recipient (the puppy!). Similarly, make a scrapbook or assemble a photo album, if you have the time. Otherwise, provide the supplies and present it as a scrapbook kit. (Kinko's and the local one-hour photo shop will help.)

  • Gift certificates, the last-minute standby, are available for all kinds of items and services: massages, Amazon.com, skydiving, car detailing, restaurants, dance classes, and a family portrait, just to name a few.

  • A Christmas stocking without a whoopee cushion is just another sock.

  • You can spruce up inexpensive gifts by adding a little pizzazz to the packaging. For example, fill a basket with candles of assorted sizes, wrap in netting, and tie with a bow. You could do the same with wine, an opener, and two glasses.

  • For the Fool on your list, how about some finances-enhancing Motley gifts (at a discount!).

  • What do you get for the person who has everything? Something for someone else, of course. Make a donation to an outstanding charity in their name.

  • Remember that coffee grinder someone gave you last year... but you don't drink coffee? Or perhaps there's another perfectly good (and rarely used) item around the house that could use a better owner.

  • If money isn't tight, consider the gift of travel. You can purchase a package from Travelocity and Expedia -- or how about a night or two at a darling Bed & Breakfast?

  • If you're at a complete loss for ideas, think of the five gadgets, thingamabobs, or whatchamacallits around your house that would make a great gift. (An oven rack puller-and-pusher? The video yule log? The Clapper?) Then go out and buy it!

Shameless Plug: Give a Little Bit

If we each gave just five dollars, we could raise millions to save thousands of lives. 'Tis the season to remember those less fortunate, and the Fool has a great way for you to help others. Be part of Foolanthropy 2002, and ensure others' holidays are as happy as yours.

Lord of the Box Office

There was never a doubt that the latest Lord of the Rings installment -- The Two Towers -- would rock the holiday box office in its opening weekend. The welcome surprise for AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) is that the film's estimated five-day, $101.5 million North American showing surpassed the original.

Last year's The Fellowship of the Ring scored a huge $313 million by the time it concluded its theatrical run. The follow-up's record-breaking start is trending 33% higher.

Sure, it helps that ticket prices inch higher every year, and that fresh multiplex theaters have the new release playing on 700 more screens than last year's film. But, here at the midpoint of a blockbuster trilogy franchise, it has to feel good to be AOL Time Warner.

The lure of last year's epic has helped moved more than 35 million videos and DVDs this year. Looking beyond the box office receipts, it's safe to say the critically acclaimed Two Towers will also be a can't-miss home entertainment appendage come 2003. The fact that AOL Time Warner is also the company behind the weekend's second-biggest winner, Two Weeks Notice, is gravy.

If only the stock market could be floored by celluloid success. Wall Street's been bagging the Baggins, as shares of AOL Time Warner have surrendered nearly 60% between the two hobbit flick releases. With growth stalled at America Online and the entertainment business struggling, can Frodo Baggins save the day?

Discussion Board of the Day: Lord of the Rings

Did you grow up on the works of Tolkien, or have you just now discovered the wonders of Frodo Baggins? Do you think the sequel bettered last year's effort? Can a computer-rendered character be up for Best Supporting Actor at next year's Oscars? All this and more -- in the Lord of the Rings discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Quick Takes

In the face of possible war with Iraq, the dollar has been slumping, gold and oil prices are on the rise, and stocks began the day edging down. Stay tuned for further developments.

Citigroup (NYSE: C) has announced it will take a $1.5 billion charge against its fourth-quarter earnings. The amount is meant to account for costs related to investigations into its conflicts of interest, its relationships with firms such as Enron, and to guard against credit losses, among other things.

Retailers have seen more inspiring holiday seasons than this one. Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), which has been lowering investors' expectations in recent weeks, is doing more of the same, revealing December sales will likely hit the low end of expectations. It hopes last-minute shoppers will boost its ultimate bottom line. Meanwhile, J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP), which has been firing on all cylinders lately, said that it, too, is feeling the pinch, with recent sales a bit lower than expected. Still, it foresees beating its projected December numbers.

Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) has taken advantage of the many companies falling so low in market value these days (including itself) by snapping up one such company. It's acquiring Internet search specialist Inktomi(Nasdaq: INKT) to enhance its own search capabilities.

Aviation aficionados excited about Boeing's(NYSE: BA) plans to build a "futuristic, high-speed" Sonic Cruiser will have to suck it up. The company is scrapping those plans due to lack of interest from airlines, and instead will focus on developing a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Beleaguered conglomerate Tyco(NYSE: TYC), which was due to release the findings of an internal investigation headed by hotshot lawyer David Boies (of Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT)/Justice Department fame), has announced it's delaying the release until early 2003, as it needs more time to digest the findings and prepare required regulatory filings.

Who's been naughty and who's been nice? This year perhaps Santa himself has been naughty. Reports have surfaced that Santa was apprehended after windsurfing across the American-Canadian border yesterday. Don't be too disillusioned with the jolly old fellow, though -- he was trying to raise awareness of the homeless.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com: Bob Bobala plans to give his niece a million smackers for Christmas, and he's not even rich.... Zeke Ashton wonders if he's hot on the track of a small-cap turnaround.... In Fool's School, what's an order imbalance?... And the Post of the Day: A Fool argues why fundamental analysis really works.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim