One IRS attacker goes to prison, others under investigation

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Frustration with the Internal Revenue Service is nothing new. But in recent months, acts of violence and inappropriate treatment of agents are escalating.

For venting his frustrations by ramming his SUV into an IRS building, 50-year-old Ernest Milton Barnett will spend 52 months in prison, another three years on probation, and pay $3,000 in restitution to the IRS and IRS employees who were injured in the attack.

On August 26, 2008, witnesses said Barnett was seen driving back and forth around the IRS building in Birmingham, Alabama, before driving over a curb and onto the grass. Then he turned the SUV around, hit the accelerator, and rammed the vehicle into a window. As employees scattered, he backed the SUV up, aimed, and attacked the building again.

A government sentencing memo stated that Barnett grew angry while talking to an IRS employee that morning on the phone. Soon after the call ended, he left his home in Center Point, Alabama, and headed straight to the IRS building. In March 2010, Barnett pleaded guilty to a two-count indictment of using his Jeep Cherokee as a deadly weapon against IRS employees, and of willfully damaging government property.

“This defendant undertook a senseless and outrageous attack on a government building filled with people in order to protest a long-standing tax debt, and innocent and unsuspecting federal employees were injured,” U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said in a statement. “Such a premeditated and unwarranted assault against the federal government demands punishment.”

Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins ordered him to report to prison October 12, to begin serving his sentence.

In February, another angry man vented his frustrations in another attack – this one deadly. Andrew Joseph Stack III, age 53, posted online a rambling 3,000-word diatribe against the government. Then he set his house on fire with his wife and daughter inside and drove to where his small private airplane was housed. Eyewitness Susan Whelan told the Austin Statesman that Stack flew his Piper Cherokee plane directly into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. “It wasn’t heading into the direction of the building, but all of a sudden it took a right and headed straight into it. It didn’t look like it was in distress. It wasn’t wavering at all.”

Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer, told the Associated Press, “It felt like a bomb blew off. The ceiling caved in and the windows blew in. We got up and ran.”

After fighting the blaze for more than 75 minutes, firefighters found the remains of Stack and an IRS employee who died in the attack.

A month after the plane crash, TheWashington Post reported that threats against IRS employees and facilities continued to pour in. Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told reporters that more than 70 instances of inappropriate comments made to IRS employees were under investigation. Some of the comments were jokes about Stack or support for him, and other comments were described as serious threats.

These threats are tracked by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), which serves as an IRS watchdog. “TIGTA is actively and aggressively investigating all threats made against IRS employees, infrastructure, and property,” said J. Russell George, the treasury inspector general.

Attacks on the IRS, which are not limited to tax season, have included assaults on employees and attacks on offices. They are nothing new, but are treated with great seriousness, according to Terry Lemons, IRS communications director. “It would be a little naive to think that we don’t get some threats over the course of doing business,” Lemons told reporters.

CPA and tax attorney Peter Pappas has witnessed out-of-control taxpayer behavior for a couple of decades. Certain characteristics are typical of what Pappas calls the anti-IRS lunatic. More information on these types of individuals can be found at his Tax Lawyer's Blog.

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