Employees of the Internal Revenue Service are the target of a fast rising number of threats and expressing concern about potential vulnerabilities outside agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
Agency records reviewed by the I-Team show federal investigators have launched 1,556 investigations into possible threats against agency employees from taxpayers since the beginning of the year. Investigators with the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration, which probes potential threat cases and provides armed escorts for some IRS employees, said some of the cases warranted additional protection for workers. Though officials told the I-Team some of the threats they’ve investigated were considered idle, including taxpayers “blowing off steam,” others have triggered federal prosecutions.
“The IRS is an agency that touches people very personally. That generates a lot of frustration, anger or hostility,” said Treasury Department Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Tim Camus.
Agency reports to Congress indicate federal officials have been investigating nearly 150 threat cases a month.
A Florida man pleaded guilty this year to a federal charge after his arrest for pointing a gun at an IRS agent who’d knocked on his door. In 2014, a jury convicted a Rhode Island man of threatening to kill an IRS agent and rape the agent’s wife during a dispute over a $330,000 tax bill.
Camus said agents protect employees who genuinely fear for their safety.
“Our role is to go out and make sure the environment is safe and allow the employees to do their work,” he said.
IRS employees stationed at the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters told the I-Team there is growing concern among workers about risks posed by the newly opened Trump International Hotel across the street. The workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said agency security sent an email alerting employees to security concerns posed by the opening. Passages of the email said, “Cars near the hotel and IRS building obscure emergency egress and sight lines for IRS security." The email also said commercial trucks, Ubers and taxis are not being checked by K-9 or magnetic wands as they sit parked or idling between the hotel and IRS building.
The I-Team equipped a vehicle with cameras to review the hotel’s valet parking system. Hotel valet staff brought the I-Team vehicle into a garage adjacent to the IRS building in close proximity to agency employees. The equipment inside the I-Team vehicle, including the cameras, was not seen being screened.
Employees told the I-Team their concerns were punctuated by the May arrest of a Pennsylvania man accused of bringing a cache of weapons and 90 rounds of ammunition into the Trump Hotel parking lot. The man pleaded not guilty to federal charges but was arrested while awaiting trial after prosecutors said he posted dangerous, anti-government messages on social media.
The Trump Hotel did not respond to requests for comment. The IRS declined to answer questions from the I-Team. Instead the agency issued a written statement: “The IRS takes the safety and well-being of our employees very seriously, and security is a top priority. We have strong procedures in place and we continually work closely with our security team, state and local law enforcement and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to review, revise and improve upon our safety protocols as needed.”
Former IRS administrator Marcus Owens, who was stalked by a disgruntled taxpayer before retiring from the agency, said threats are a common concern for agency employees. IRS security and inspector general agents handle the investigations and protective escorts thoroughly, Owens said.
"The agency has always been a target," he said. "Tax collectors have been a target since tax collecting began.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.