August 27 2013

More IRS Agents Behaving Badly

Patrice J. Lee

Here are two numbers: 878 and three.  These two numbers are an embarrassment to the IRS and should trouble taxpayers. The first number is compliance cases against IRS agents that were closed from October of 2012 through March of this year. Of those just three were cleared entirely. If that doesn’t invite trust in the IRS I don‘t know what else would.

Forbes reports on a particularly disgusting case of an agent who faked receipts from a church for donations she claimed to have made and reported in her 2008 and 2009 returns. After prosecution in a U.S. Tax Court the agent called the ruling against her “unfair and biased” but what’s unfair is that we as a taxpayers paid her to rip us off by lying on her taxes. She apparently wasn’t alone in her wrong-doing; another IRS staffer was likely complicit in this scheme.

And this reportedly was not her first time fiddling with her tax forms. She underreported her slot machine winnings by $12,000, according to Forbes. Perhaps she forgot that the very agency she works for doesn’t just rely on individuals to truthfully report their winnings but on what casinos report. Oops.

Outraged? You should be:

 “We would still be outraged if this was not a revenue agent. But with a revenue agent, it’s like `Are you kidding?’’’ said Claudia Hill, a Cupertino, Cal. enrolled agent who lectures frequently on IRS practice and recently wrote about a meeting with Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel for the Forbes IRS Watch blog.  “I am profoundly disappointed. We all need to have a trust level for people in these positions and when they violate it, the act has a ripple effect on all U. S. taxpayers,’’ William Stevenson, president of National Tax Consultants in Merrick, N.Y., and a long-time taxpayer rights advocate, wrote in an e-mail.

 

The case comes at an awkward time for the IRS, whose budget and conduct have been under fierce attack by House Republicans, primarily for the handling of requests by Tea Party and other conservative groups for tax exempt status, but for other issues too. In May, then Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was forced to resign and Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a criminal review of IRS employees’ handling of the exemption requests.

This story comes to light following a recent report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The TIGTA, which keeps an eye on IRS (mis)behavior, released its semiannual report to Congress highlighting noteworthy audits, investigations and inspections. It’s actually an interesting read. Who knew that in Louisiana a shrimp dealer actually tried to bribe an IRS agent with thousands of dollars in cash and almost a hundred pounds of shrimp to “take care of him” in an audit?

What raised my eyebrow were some of the other stats in the report:

 30 employees resigned; 21 were suspended for more than 14 days; 79 were suspended for less than 14 days; 151 were issued written reprimands; 271 were issued less serious written admonishments; and others received other forms of counseling, cautions and criticisms. Just three were cleared entirely.

I’m glad that the IRS has processes in place to catch misbehaving taxpayers outside and inside of their doors. Let’s hope that for the almost 850 people who were not cleared entirely of wrong-doing and remain employees, they continue to be under the magnifying glass so that they don’t become repeat offenders… especially at our expense.

 

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