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IRS watchdog finds problems with armed tax agent training

Al Capone sentencing_All-thats-interesting-dot-com
Al "Scarface" Capone at his sentencing for tax evasion. Back in the Prohibition Era, federal agents — notably those from the Internal Revenue Service — took down the notorious gangster. The tax agency's armed Criminal Investigation agents are still on the job. (Photo courtesy All That's Interesting: 25 Al Capone Facts)

Paul Manafort's tax evasion (and bank fraud) trial is shining a spotlight, at least in the tax world, on the Internal Revenue Service's unit that goes after tax criminals.

In most cases, like that of Donald J. Trump's former campaign manager, it's white collar tax crime. U.S. taxpayers don't pay all or any of the tax they owe or they come up with wild schemes to reduce their tax liability.

In these situations, nobody and nothing except Uncle Sam's bottom line is threatened.

But since the IRS' Criminal Investigation (CI) division is a law enforcement agency, its agents carry firearms.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), however, says that some IRS CI agents apparently aren't getting adequate weapons training.

The main problem, according to the TIGTA report released Aug. 2, is with CI's documentation of its officer training.

Armed tax agents: Part of Criminal Investigation special agents' job is to execute search and arrest warrants on those suspected of violating U.S. tax laws.

The agents also enforce other federal statutes over which the IRS has jurisdiction. This includes cases of suspected money laundering and violation of Bank Secrecy Act laws.

In performing these duties, special agents carry firearms and are authorized to use deadly force to protect themselves and the public, notes TIGTA.

While we're not talking the Tommy gun days of the Prohibition Era's most notorious gangster Al Capone, who was caught by the IRS (and who gets an additional mention later in this post), there's still the possibility that some of today's suspected tax criminals, looking at potential jail time, may violently resist arrest.

So CI agents must be ready to respond accordingly when necessary.

If they're not properly trained in the use of firearms, says TIGTA, agents could endanger not only the public, but their fellow special agents.

Plus, there's also the potential for subsequent litigation against the IRS in cases where firearms are used. If the agents involved in such cases aren't trained appropriately, that will make the agency's defense of its actions much more difficult.

Acceptable IRS weaponry: All CI agents receive a standard issue handgun, a Glock .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol.

When circumstances necessitate additional weaponry, they also can be issued shotguns and long guns (rifles).

IRS CI agents are required, per the provisions of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, to continually meet specific firearms training and qualification standards on each of these weapons.

For the most part, TIGTA found that CI special agents are getting the weapons training they need.

But not in all cases. Or at least not as far as CI records reflect.

Incomplete training records: TIGTA found that that during Fiscal Year 2016, CI did not maintain documented evidence that 145 out of 2,126 special agents met the firearm standards established by the division.

Therefore, the agents were not qualified law enforcement officers.

In addition, the TIGTA report says 79 of the 459 special agents in CI's long gun cadre did not meet the standard qualification requirements established for that unit.

CI also could not provide TIGTA with formal support for other respective firearms-related training, including whether 1,500 special agents received the tactical equipment proficiency training.

TIGTA's investigation also found that field office management did not always take consistent and appropriate actions when special agents failed to meet the requirements, that is, managers did not take away the insufficiently trained agents' weapons.

Finally, TIGTA noted that there is no national level review of firearms training records to ensure that all CI special agents meet the qualification requirements.

"These results indicate a possibility that some special agents are not maintaining an appropriate level of weapons proficiency and use of force skills to effectively and safely carry out their duties and responsibilities," wrote Michael E. McKenney, Deputy Inspector General for Audit, in the TIGTA report.

CI firearms recommendations: TIGTA, naturally, had some suggestions for the IRS CI division when it comes to its firearms' policies and practices.

They include:

  • Establishing national oversight to ensure that each field office is properly complying with the issued firearm standards and training requirements and that qualification scores for all special agents are properly documented in the nationwide SharePoint records, and
  • Issuing written guidance to improve the documentation of training and qualification results.

CI took the suggestions to heart and told TIGTA it is, among other things, directing the Office of Strategy, National Criminal Investigation Training Academy, to oversee the field office in question to ensure its timely compliance with the documentation of firearms qualification scores and relevant training information.

Overall, CI said it also issued as of June 28 written guidance on how to improve the division's documentation of its agents' firearms training.

Conjuring Capone: The day before the TIGTA report was released, Al Capone was on some folks' minds. In fact, both Trump and I referenced the notorious gangster, though, as I noted in a tweet, not in the same way.

I cited Scarface's conviction on tax evasion charges as the most famous example of the IRS long reach when it comes to tax collection in my post about the opening of Manafort's tax evasion (and more) trial.

The Chicago gangster ended up in Alcatraz not for his suspected violent crimes, but because he didn't declare and pay tax on his illegal income from, primarily, bootlegging.

Trump complained that federal prosecutors were treating his former presidential campaign chief worse than their historic counterparts did Capone.

A couple of Capone experts also took note of Trump's reference.

"While interpreting presidential pronouncements can be difficult work these days, we — as Capone's most recent biographers — feel a certain duty to place his comments in context," wrote A. Brad Schwartz and Max Allan Collins on the History News Network website. They are the co-authors of the just-published book "Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago."

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Schwartz and Collins see more of a Trump-Capone comparison than one between Manafort and Scarface. They say:

Quote iconCapone, like Trump, was prone to public self-pity, apparently needing to go before the press and complain about how poorly the authorities and the media treated him.

In December 1927, Capone announced that he'd suffered enough abuse and was leaving for Florida.

"Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can," Capone told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm sick of the job — It's a thankless one and full of grief." …

"I've been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor. I've given people the light pleasures, shown them a good time. And all I get is abuse — the existence of a hunted man. …

"Public service is my motto. … But I'm not appreciated. It's no use."

Hmmm. Hunted man. Witch hunt. Unappreciated. Retreating to Florida.

Schwartz and Collins may be on to something.

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