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Tales From An X-IRS Agent

It is usually impossible to get the inside scoop of how the IRS is looking at taxpayers but sometimes a retired IRS agent will provide me with some valuable insight.

Before I go into this, let’s cover some of the basics about the structure of the IRS. Generally, there are four classes of employees at the IRS. 

The Office Examiner is the person who audits personal income tax returns which can include the small Schedule Cs-the sole proprietor.  This person usually does not have a degree in accounting.  These audits are performed at the IRS office. 

The Revenue Agent will have a degree in accounting and is the person who audits large Schedule C’s and corporate income tax returns.  These audits are performed at the business. 

The Revenue Officer is the person who collects past due tax accounts.  These are the people who will give you a bad time, and they can have the worst attitudes.  When they wanted to make the IRS kinder and gentler, these are the people they wanted to tame down.  However, there are cases that involve some real big crooks, and the actions that the Revenue Officer takes are justifiable. 

Then, there are the Special Agents who work in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) handle the fraud and criminal cases.  These are the people who pack the heaters (guns, shotguns, and rifles).  These are the kind, sympathetic, and understanding people that you will meet in the event that you are ever found to be significantly cheating on your taxes.  You see, by going after you, making a public case out of you (newspapers, radio and TV), and by putting you in jail, they can assist in the government’s goal of voluntary compliance with the tax laws.

How A Routine Audit On Excise Taxes Turned Into A Nightmare For The Taxpayer-Business Owner.

The Revenue Agent was assigned a case where a company that was manufacturing truck parts was turned in by one of its competitors.  The competitor suspected that the company was not paying the excise tax that is due on truck parts since this company was winning most of the government bids to supply the military.  The excise tax on the parts, tires and fuel is used to maintain the Federal roads.

The Revenue Agent pulled copies of the returns from the IRS and sure enough, no tax was being reported or paid. While at the company’s place of business, the Revenue Agent noticed that one of the owners had a picture of an airplane on his wall.  Since there is also an annual excise tax on small airplanes, the Revenue Agent decided to test this business owner.  So the Revenue Agent got him into a conversation about how much he loved his airplane and then the Revenue Agent asked him for copies of the excise tax returns for the plane.  The business owner acted dumb, like he didn’t know anything about it.  So the Revenue Agent gave him blank forms to fill out for the last three years. 

After receiving the completed forms, the Revenue Agent checked what tax returns were filed by the business owners and what was reported on those tax returns. Well what the Revenue Agent found was that one of the business owners had never filed personal income tax returns for the last five years.  The Revenue Agent was then able to show that the business owner committed tax fraud through his intentional disregard for the law.

This case was then transferred to the CID where it did go to a criminal trial. Besides having to deal with a criminal tax proceeding, the non-compliant business owner who didn’t file his five years of tax returns suffered more misfortune as his wife divorced him and he lost total custody of his kids.  He and his business partner still owed $250,000 in taxes plus significant penalties and interest, to the IRS.

Abuse Of The Travel & Entertainment Deduction.

Some companies like to spend large amounts on travel and entertainment and, in some industries, it is necessary.  The Revenue Agent was assigned a case where, for the size of the company, the Travel & Entertainment (T&E) expense seemed a little high.  As the Revenue Agent got into the audit, he realized that there was only one salesman-the owner-and his T&E expenses per year amounted to $250,000.

As the Revenue Agent started going through the receipts for the expenses, he noticed some interesting things. The Revenue Agent noticed receipts for mink coats, wash machines, and TV’s.  The Revenue Agent asked the outside CPA about these items and he said that they were for corporate gifts to clients.  Now the Internal Revenue Code limits gifts to $25.00 per person, per year but these were a little higher than that.  The Revenue Agent asked the accountant what the purpose of these gifts were and he said that this was the only way that the company could get the buyers’ in the retail chains to purchase the company’s products.  What the Revenue Agent was able to show was that these items were corporate bribes and payoffs to purchasing agents.  The retail chain purchasing agents were on the take.  The items were for their wives and their own homes.

Needless to say, the Revenue Agent disallowed 50% of the company’s T&E expenses due to a lack of documentation and excessive gifts for the three most recent years.

The Wedding And The Boat.

Sometimes a Revenue Agent goes out to a company and on the surface of the tax return and financial statements everything looks just normal.  But, on occasion, the unusual just jumps out at you.

In one audit the Revenue Agent following standard audit procedures came across an entry in the books for about $80,000 that looked a little unusual, so the agent checked it off and asked for the documentation.

When the Revenue Agent returned to complete the audit, the CPA sat down with the agent to go over the list of items that the agent had requested.  When the agent came down to the $80,000 item, the CPA explained to the agent that it was for the owner’s daughter’s wedding and that since the owner HAD TO invite his customers to the wedding that some or all of it was a business expense.  Now some people will try to justify anything; however, the average Joe out there can’t take a tax deduction for inviting fellow employees to his daughter’s wedding. Needless to say, the taxpayer didn’t get the deduction.

Again, sometimes when things look normal, they aren’t.  In another audit the Revenue Agent stumbled on an entry hidden in Cost Of Goods Sold (CGS).  The CGS is where material, labor and related product costs are supposed to be recorded.  So what is the total cost of a 45 foot yacht doing there?

The explanation given to the Revenue Agent was: “Oh, no!  We didn’t mean for that to happen.  Alice the bookkeeper entered that to the wrong account, and it slipped by us.”  So the agent said “I suppose that she should have buried it in another account”.  While there is a provision in the law for the use of a boat as a travel and entertainment expense, expensing a whole boat in one year just doesn’t work. Again, needless to say, the taxpayer didn’t get the deduction.

It Just Doesn’t Add Up.

The Revenue Agent was assigned to audit a small retail store.  Upon going through the books and records, the agent could not get the deposits on the books to balance to the tax return and neither could the accountant.

The agent asked the accountant to prepare a cost of living analysis for the owner and the business.  Congress has given the IRS the authority to prove the income of the taxpayer.  This is a simple task.  All deposits to your bank accounts are income unless you can prove otherwise.  However, if all of the income does not get deposited, then the second method of proving income is a cost of living analysis.  In that case, your income is equal to your cost of living unless you can prove otherwise.

Well, the cost of living analysis showed $100,000 more per year of income than what had been reported on the tax return.  Now the accountant and business owner were nervous!  The Revenue Agent then sent the case for a fraud review and the IRS authorized the taxpayer to be charged with a Civil Fraud Penalty amounting to 75% of the increase in income tax.

What Should You Do?

If you receive notice that your tax returns are to be audited or there is a knock on your door by IRS Special Agents, do not try and take this matter on your own. Instead, enlist the services of a qualified tax attorney at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. with offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and elsewhere in California to resolve these inquiries.

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