Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Iron Bars do not a Prison Make

President Bush has signed H.R. 7802, which is now Public Law No. 110-428 [The GPO has yet to post it, but give them a week or two or three.] We now have on the books the Inmate Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2008.

Background: There are significant restrictions as to when, to whom and how much information from taxpayers' tax returns may be disclosed by the IRS. This is a good, nay, vital requirement, because nobody in their sound mind would file a tax return with the IRS if they thought the info on the tax return would become public information. But there are circumstances where tax return information must be disclosed, and so, Internal Revenue Code Section 6103 sets forth the particulars. [N.B. The version hyperlinked in this post, on the GPO website, is NOT the latest version, but if you look at it you will get an idea of Section 6103's general scheme, and general prolix verbosity.].

It seems that it is possible to outsmart the IRS by filing a tax return claiming a refund when no refund is actually warranted, because the IRS sends out the refund checks before auditing the tax return. This in and of itself is not so bad, BUT, there the criminals out there not only cheat on their own tax returns, but file false returns in the name of other people as well.

Taking it a step further, prisoners can and do successfully file false tax returns from the security of inside the prison walls. From Florida prisoners alone, there were fraudulent returns of over $4 million filed (at least that is what the IRS caught). A South Carolina inmate admitted at a Congressional hearing that he filed over 600 returns for himself or other inmates, face value approximately $3.5 million, approximately 90% of which were "successful."

More disturbing still, according to this South Carolina inmate, is that most of the money goes to the illegal drug market, and, he paid protection money to the Muslims in the prison to ensure his personal safety.

And so, President Bush has signed into law the Inmate Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2008. In addition to a little rider that protects the pensions of retired federal judges for their widows and other surviving relatives, the Act adds Section 6103(k)(10) to the Internal Revenue Code, which permits the IRS to disclose tax return information on Federal inmates suspected of tax return fraud to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

To which I say "Bravissimo!!"

(A) The provision currently sunsets after 2011; and

(B) The IRS still cannot disclose the info to State prison officials, effectively leaving people like the South Carolina inmate out of the IRS's reach.

It is not a totally bad thing that Congress is proceeding with caution in tinkering with the disclosure provisions of Section 6103. But I hope that this obviously experimental legislation proves to be successful enough to warrant the removal of the sunset provision, and its expansion to include state inmates within the sweep of the statute.

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