Out-of-the blue visits from IRS – Criminal Investigation agents might feel like something out a movie. Initially, the questions may seem innocuous. They may claim they are just approaching you as a witness.
But a witness can easily turn into a target when answers are inconsistent or conflicting. The story of a criminal tax evasion prosecution against a priest in the Bay area serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen.
Handling of charitable contributions
A priest received an unexpected visit from IRS – CI agents. He was startled and agreed to answer questions. He waffled on some of the answers. As he kept talking, he offered conflicting information.
The agents were investigating whether the priest had stolen parishioner money. Allegedly, he siphoned money and routed it into his personal account. This money didn’t appear on his tax return. The priest ended up pleading guilty to criminal tax evasion charges and still faces pending bank fraud charges. He faces five years in prison and civil penalties.
Fifth Amendment and legal counsel
A first mistake in many cases is speaking freely with investigators. This can limit your defenses. The only way to keep out an incriminating statement may be to argue you were tricked, deceived or coerced. These arguments are hard to win. How can you avoid this fate?
Ask politely for a business card and then consult a lawyer who has defended clients against allegations related to tax crimes. You can tell the special agents that your attorney will call them.
The guarantee against self-incrimination found in the Fifth Amendment allows you put a stop to an interview. And remember as we have said that “no fish was ever caught which kept it mouth closed.” Even if approached as a witness, what you say might later be used in a case against you.
Immediately contacting a tax attorney is imperative when dealing with the criminal division of the IRS. You can still fully cooperate, but through an advocate who knows the tax laws and how to protect your interests.