End reign of fear

The Internal Revenue Service must be overhauled.

The abuses described by witnesses before the Senate Finance Committee last week are inexcusable. They were a call to reform that cannot be ignored. The accounts were shocking. Misguided IRS agents mishandled investigations, searches, and seizures. They launched actions based on outright lies from informants with questionable credentials.

The stories sounded like events that must have taken place in some outpost ruled by a despot, not in the United States.

One man, a former Marine captain, caught his restaurant bookkeeper embezzling. She turned him into the IRS, alleging that the business was a cover for drug smuggling. IRS investigators ripped the door to his home off the hinges, impounded his dogs, his safe and 12 years of tax records. His manager was forced from the shower at gunpoint. No charges were ever filed, and the IRS returned his records four months later. The FBI had declined the informant’s information. The man lost his business and his reputation.

A Texas oil man said he paid $23 million to get the IRS off his back after three years of investigation and $5.5 million in legal fees. A bookkeeper had alleged tax fraud against the man in an attempt to win a $25 million bounty from the IRS. He is suing the bookkeeper.

Another man, who operated a tax service, saw all of his records and computers seized by IRS agents in a raid. No fraud was found, and the IRS decided against going to court.

No one in a free country should be mugged by their own government. No apology can ever make up for the indignities and fear suffered by innocent taxpayers at the hands of an agency that is out of control.

New IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti has promised reform. It can’t happen fast enough. Congress needs to go further and to create a system of checks and balances that will end the IRS reign of fear.


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