U.S. IRS keeps list of “dangerous” taxpayers
Half a dozen local law enforcement officials interviewed by Reuters said they didn’t know about it, but that it could be helpful in preventing violent crimes. Rights activists counter that further distribution would encroach on people’s privacy.
Earlier this month the FBI warned that anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States.
The IRS website lays out some basics about the list. Taxpayers who assault or try to intimidate IRS workers may be listed along with members of groups that advocate violence against the IRS.
Being part of a tax protest group does not by itself warrant inclusion. Individuals on the IRS list remain there for five years, then their status is reviewed, the website says.
IRS spokesman Dean Patterson would not discuss the list, how many were on it or how old it was. “Federal law prohibits us from discussing specific taxpayers or situations,” he said.
The IRS watchdog unit, TIGTA, referred 575 people to the IRS for possible inclusion on the list in fiscal 2011, which ended on Sept. 30, according to a TIGTA report to Congress released in December. The IRS ultimately decides who makes the cut.
IRS data restrictions have at times frustrated local law enforcement, local officials say.
Detectives have been denied access to taxpayer information from the IRS for white-collar, non-violent investigations, such as tax fraud schemes. Only in extreme cases such as those involving national security can law enforcement agencies gain access to taxpayer information.
In Tampa, Florida, authorities are investigating a tax and identity theft scam that has produced at least $130 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Police detectives said they have struggled to get IRS taxpayer information.
“Local law enforcement authorities have reported difficulties in getting the IRS to share information needed for the investigations,” Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement to Reuters.
“I filed legislation that directs the IRS to work more closely with local authorities to help get them the information they need,” he said.
Sal Augeri, a Tampa police detective working on the tax refund scam investigations, said he never heard of the IRS dangerous taxpayers list.
“Obviously, we would want to know anybody that is violent toward any type of law enforcement,” he said. “It would be nice to have that little ‘heads-up.’”
Dean Zerbe, a former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the IRS, said Congress should review the restrictions it imposed on IRS information sharing.
Zerbe, a managing director with tax consultancy Alliantgroup who is familiar with the list, said: “I don’t think anyone wants to be in the position where the IRS was fully aware that this person was violent and then some poor officer stops this person and is gunned down because they had no idea they were dealing with a bad actor.”
Privacy advocates cautioned against distributing the list.
“The danger here is when you start creating lists like that, the incentive is all toward putting more people on the list,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, who was unaware of the list before being contacted.
What do you think? Should local enforcement agencies have greater access to the list?