What is tax corruption?

Tax corruption is a federal offense that occurs when someone meddles with the Internal Revenue Service or its agents. It usually involves an effort to prevent the IRS from collecting taxes or auditing records. To prove a defendant guilty, a prosecutor must show that the person

  • used corruption, force, or threats, and
  • intended to interfere with the IRS’s functions. (26 U.S.C. § 7212(a).)

An act is corrupt if it is designed to gain an illegal advantage or benefit. Corruption in this sense includes

  • bribery
  • subornation (trying to induce someone to commit an illegal act)
  • fraud, and
  • misrepresentation

So, for example, someone who pretends his organization is tax-exempt in order to solicit charitable contributions has acted corruptly. He has also impeded tax law enforcement by causing donors to list their payments as tax-deductible donations. He is therefore guilty of tax corruption.

Examples of Corruption

Violations of the tax corruption statute take many shapes and forms. Examples include:

  • sending letters to individuals or companies demanding that they not comply with IRS summonses
  • threatening government employees who played a part in assessing, levying, or collecting taxes
  • creating a corporation to enable a colleague to disguise income that should be subject to taxation
  • scuffling with IRS officers who are trying to seize property due to nonpayment of taxes, and
  • filing a frivolous lawsuit in order to frustrate an IRS investigation.

Defenses

Someone accused of tax corruption may try to prove that she acted in good faith—that she didn’t intend to interfere with the IRS. If she succeeds, she can’t be convicted. But, intent can be inferred from conduct. The fact that the government spent a large amount of time discovering and correcting problems caused by the defendant’s conduct can be used as evidence that she meant to impede the IRS.

A more straightforward defense, though one that’s rarely available, is the statute of limitations, which is six years in tax corruption cases. If a defendant partook in a tax corruption scheme but hasn’t done anything in relation to it in over six years, he can’t be convicted.

Punishment

A conviction for tax corruption triggers a maximum imprisonment of three years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. Tax corruption is a felony unless the defendant commits the crime only by threatening to harm someone—for example, by promising to hurt an IRS agent if that agent continues an audit. In that case, the offense is a misdemeanor and the penalty decreases to a year or less in prison, a fine of $3,000 or less, or both.

Getting Legal Assistance

If you are charged with a tax crime, or are simply being investigated for one, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Look for someone who regularly handles federal tax cases. Only an experienced attorney will be able to assess the strength of the case against you, explore any possible defenses, and represent your best interests along each step of the way.

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