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Threats of violence against IRS employees persist

Watchdog report details assaults and bomb scares as well as IG’s moves to centralize data to better gauge which threats are most serious.

Assaults, bomb threats and intimidation continue among the impediments faced by Internal Revenue Service employees in carrying out their duties, according to the latest semiannual report to Congress from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

As part of its statutory mission, the Treasury IG investigates threats and attacks against IRS employees, property and data infrastructure, and the report, which covers the period April through September 2010, said employees contend with "increasing threats," attributing some of the new dangers to the Internet.

The IG's Office of Investigations "has continued to aggressively pursue those who threaten the safety and security of IRS personnel, data and facilities, or who otherwise attempt to corruptly impact the integrity of the IRS and the federal system of tax administration," the report said.

The report, released on Wednesday, comes during a political climate of rising hostility toward federal taxation and nine months after an IRS employee died when a tax protester flew a small aircraft into a federal building in Austin, Texas.

To track and gauge the relative seriousness of threats to IRS employees as well as to online infrastructure, the IG has reorganized to "better align its personnel and technical resources," which includes combining its investigative office's expertise with that of its criminal intelligence division.

Incidents or threats of violence have topped 1,200 during the past nine years, and recent cases include:

  • In August 2008, Ernest Barnett of Alabama became upset with an IRS employee during a phone call discussing a long-standing tax debt and threatened to get a gun. He then drove his sport utility vehicle to a building where IRS offices are located and rammed it twice into one of the windows, injuring two employees. In August 2010, Barnett was sentenced to 52 months in prison for assaulting, intimidating and interfering with federal employees while performing their official duties; 12 months for damaging U.S. property; and 36 months of supervised release.
  • In April 2009, Logan Painter of North Carolina phoned an agent with the IRS criminal investigations section and repeatedly said, "I'm gonna off you." In a later call, Painter's attorney said the man had told his wife, "Goodbye, you're not going to see me again, and you will be reading about me in the papers." In May, Painter was sentenced to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • In August 2008, William Brown of California called the toll-free IRS number to say, "There is a bomb in the Fresno Service Center." Brown had previously delivered threats to the facility, but no bomb was found. On May 10, 2010, he was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay $833.64 in restitution and a $25 special assessment.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said it was "unfortunate" that threats against IRS staff continue to be "a serious problem." In the aftermath of the death this year of the IRS employee in Austin, she said, "I was shocked to hear a number of comments expressing empathy or justification for those who would threaten or attack federal employees. These comments are irresponsible and can turn frustration with policies into mindless attacks and misguided rage."

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