What to Do When the IRS’ Criminal Tax Investigation Unit Contacts You?
Keep your mouth shut! Our criminal tax attorneys know it can be scary when the Internal Revenue Service contacts you for a tax audit, but even more so when a Special Agent from their Criminal Investigation Unit shows up. Special Agents like to use the element of surprise, so more often than not, they will unexpectedly knock on your front door, usually early in the morning at either your home or place of business. They do this to catch you off guard and so you’ll be unprepared, and spill your guts. Imagine that you’re getting ready to leave for work, take your kids to school, or just having your morning cup of coffee. Then knock, knock, knock, two Special Agents (they always travel in pairs) are at your front door, flashing gold badges and carrying guns (yes, they are armed), telling you they need to ask you some questions. You begin to feel light-headed, your heart starts to pound and you may break into a cold sweat. Now what?
The investigation can be for a number of reasons, but is always because the IRS believes a criminal tax crime has been committed by you or someone else. A federal tax crime includes tax evasion, tax fraud, FBAR violations and more. Sometimes they believe you may be a witness against someone else they are investigating, or worse, that you are under criminal tax investigation. Regardless of why you are contacted, you need to know your rights and that you are entitled to be represented by a criminal tax attorney BEFORE you speak to the Special Agents.
The Internal Revenue Manual states that Special Agents are required to advise you of your Miranda rights prior to asking you any questions. But even if they don’t Mirandize you, you are still entitled to those rights. Politely, and non-confrontationally, ask for their business card and tell the Special Agents that you are not comfortable speaking with them at this time and will have your criminal tax attorney contact them. Then do not say anything else and go back into your house, office, etc. Unless they have an arrest warrant, they cannot arrest you; and if they haven’t shown you an arrest warrant at the beginning of the contact, odds are they don’t have one. Likewise for a search warrant; unless they have a search warrant, you are not obligated to provide any documents or other items (such as computers, etc.). Do not provide any information, documents or other items, or ask any questions. Remember that anything you say can be used against you. Even if you are told you are only being contacted as a witness and not the subject or target of an investigation, you could inadvertently say something that incriminates you or makes the Special Agents want to investigate you too. While the Agents can appear friendly and may try to make it seem like they are there to help you, keep in mind they are investigating what they believe is a federal tax crime. At this point they may have already contacted other people, conducted interviews and/or surveillance and subpoenaed bank and other financial records. They may even already know the answers to the questions they are asking you. Based upon their investigation they can recommend the case be sent to a U.S. Attorney for criminal prosecution. If you are found guilty, that could mean time in a federal prison in addition to the assessment of taxes, interest, penalties and fees!
It is important to know that Special Agents are specially trained IRS agents who carry a firearm and can serve you with an arrest warrant, search warrant or subpoena. That is why it is extremely important that you obtain a criminal tax attorney prior to speaking with the agents to protect your rights. You may think that by speaking with the Special Agents you are appearing to be cooperative, and talk your way out of the problem, but remember, once you say something or turn over documents, you can’t take it back.