Tax cheats can breathe a little easier. The gun-toting Internal Revenue Service investigators who send felons to prison are retiring in droves and there’s no one to replace them.
IRS Criminal Investigation agents are the elite special forces in the never-ending war on tax evasion. They are feared among criminals for their unmatched ability to follow the money, assess net worth and find fraud in corporate books. They have been at the center of major tax and money-laundering cases involving Swiss banks, FIFA soccer officials, and the Costa Rican digital currency company, Liberty Reserve.
Despite those victories, these are dark days for CI agents. Scandals and budget wars between the Obama administration and House Republicans are thinning out the ranks of the IRS’s 84,000 employees. By the end of next year, the number of criminal agents is projected to fall by 21 percent since 2011.
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“It’s hard to continue to work in an environment when your agency is constantly bashed, and your funding is slashed,” said Toni Weirauch, 52, who retired as a top CI manager in May. “I loved my career but I was exhausted by the end.”
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As they head for the exits, the bright minds that have researched and built complex cases for decades are no longer available to mentor replacements, should they ever get hired. The number of investigators fell to 2,316 this year from 2,739 in 2011 and are projected to hit 2,166 next year. Since 2013, only 45 new agents have been hired, and the IRS has said it doesn’t expect to add any more in 2016.
This brain drain translates to fewer resources to fight tax evasion and corporate frauds, even as CI tackles the vexing variations and growing complexity of identity theft and cybercrimes. New investigations fell 27 percent to 3,853 this year compared with 2013. Tax investigations fell by 32 percent, according to a CI annual report released Wednesday.
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Picking their spots to sow fear and set public examples, CI agents play a central role protecting the integrity of the tax system. Cases often take years of painstaking work to meet the legal threshold of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the intent to cheat on taxes. And with resources stretched, ambitious tax and money-laundering cases risk falling by the wayside.
“We’re just not going to be able to focus on every type of crime as we shrink,” said Rich Weber, 50, who has run the CI division since 2012. “We’re a nationwide agency, and there’s only so much you can do with 2,000 agents.”JAT editorial note: The political travesty now playing out is not the entirely made up claim of White House direct or indirect management of Lerner's unit at the IRS, but the IRS bashing by demagogues. A revenue gathering agency -- whether called the IRS or something else -- is required for any government -- and even more so for a government such as ours that has a critical role to play both within the U.S. and in the world. The agency performs an essential function to enforce the laws Congress has enacted in order to fund the necessary functions to make us a better society and to provide essential protection inside and outside the U.S. Those public servants who perform those functions inside the agency are performing an essential function. Like other essential government functions (from the military to the IRS), the public servants performing those revenue functions should be appreciated and supported. But, some politicians have found that IRS bashing plays to a base that does not appreciate and support the IRS. I just don't believe that is good for the country.