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IRS Criminal Investigation Process

IRS Criminal Investigation

For whatever reason, you have found yourself facing an IRS criminal investigation or in a civil investigation or audit that, in time, may turn into a criminal investigation. It is surprisingly easy for a person to find oneself involved with this sort of IRS tax problem. Maybe you have been accused of tax evasion, or some other form of tax fraud. Some of my clients were not even aware that anything had gone wrong until the IRS came looking for them.

A simple mistake, oversight, or your accountant’s malpractice may trigger an IRS criminal investigation. Specifically, unreported income, a false statement, the use of an impermissible accounting or banking service, or declaring too many deductions are things that could initiate an audit, which could then rise to the level of an IRS criminal investigation process.

Our Office has developed a special criminal tax defense practice as to federal, criminal income tax issues prosecuted by the IRS. It is sometimes said that while the focus of an accountant is accuracy, the focus of an attorney is advocacy. Because I am both a tax attorney and CPA, I place a premium on both accuracy and client advocacy.

The IRS is the world’s most powerful collection agency, with tremendous resources, and its Criminal Investigation Division (CID) is ruthless. Its goal is singular: to conduct a thorough investigation of the taxpayer who has engaged in tax fraud so that he can be criminally prosecuted.

A criminal investigation differs from an audit. With an audit, the IRS attempts to determine whether you have calculated your tax liability correctly. With a criminal investigation, the IRS seeks to mount a case against you so that the U.S. Attorney’s Office can prosecute you. The taxing system is based on fear. To maintain a proper level of fear the government needs to prosecute tax cheats on an ongoing basis.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Process

The IRS criminal investigation process is serious business. The Criminal Investigation Division “CID” is composed of federal agents (called “Special Agents”), who are highly trained financial investigators that carry a gun and wear a badge. Unlike your typical police department, CID conducts a very thorough investigation, and which may last years while they interview your family, friends, co-workers, employees, and business associates, and bankers, among others, to acquire evidence as to the extent of the tax evasion or tax fraud that may have occurred.

A criminal tax violation conviction results in severe consequences, and in addition to monstrous fines, including the cost of prosecution and jail time, (Up to 5 years in jail for each count and ordinarily the government will not prosecute without being able to establish at least 3 counts) it could spell financial, personal, and social ruin. Compounding the situation is that often a taxpayer will not know when he is subject to an IRS criminal investigation until it is in its late stages at which time they surely have made incriminating admissions if they were not represented by competent counsel.

Signs that You May Be Subject to an IRS Investigation:

(1) An IRS agent abruptly stops pursuing you after he has been requesting you to pay your IRS tax debt, and now does not return your calls. The agent might be getting ready to refer your case to the CID to investigate previous or current tax evasion or crimes you may have committed within the collection process. (ie. making false statements, hiding income or assets).

(2) An IRS agent has been auditing you and now disappears for days or even weeks at a time. After a case is referred to the CID, both the Collection and Examination Divisions put things on “pause” because they do not want to jeopardize a successful criminal prosecution. The IRS’s CID is incredibly resourceful and tactful. To better position yourself against them, it is best to obtain an experienced IRS tax attorney as early as possible where criminal tax exposure is apparent in your fact pattern (like where you know you cheated on the return that is under audit). This is true even if your case is only at the civil investigation stage.

(3) Your bank informs you that your records have been summoned by the CID or subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is a sure sign you need an attorney.

(4) Your accountant is contacted by CID special agents, or has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury and told to bring your tax records. The case against you is mounting; you need an attorney!!!

My clients are often surprised to learn that any statements made to their accountant can be used against him in a criminal investigation, either through the “discovery” process leading to trial or where the accountant is called as a witness during criminal tax trial. The “accountant-client privilege” simply does not protect you in a criminal case.


By contrast, conversations with one’s attorney are protected, and insulated by the attorney-client privilege. For this reason, once you discover you are under investigation, say nothing further to your accountant, because that will just give the IRS further evidence against you. Again, when your accountant has been contacted by the special agents, you need an IRS tax attorney—and quick. Additionally you have a conflict of interest with your accountant in this situation. Your accountant’s perception that his or her livelihood could be at risk makes his or her self interest in preserving his or her reputation in conflict with your desire not to be criminally prosecuted.

(5) The IRS informs you that one of your previous tax returns has been selected for audit. If your return contains an under- or over-statement of income or deductions, stop speaking with your accountant. As just mentioned, your conversations with him can be used against you if/when your investigation transforms from “civil: to “criminal”. IRS agents are experts at spotting tax fraud, and they swiftly refer likely criminal cases to the Criminal Investigation Division.

(6) An agent is overly interested in certain sensitive transactions, or has requested copies significant amount of documents (not just asking to review your records).

(7) An agent asks questions about the intent of your transaction, rather than its form.

(8) A CID special agent contacts you by phone or shows up unannounced at your business and tries to elicit as much incriminating information from you as possible without the protection of counsel being present. This is a sure sign that you are under criminal investigation. Do not speak with CID special agents–even if you are convinced of your innocence. You have the right to say nothing and you should do so! This is an ambush technique employed by the IRS, where they try to secure as much information as possible before you “wise up” and get an attorney. Tell the special agent that you wish to say nothing further to him without legal representation, and that you would like to speak with your IRS tax lawyer.

While there are other signs indicating a criminal investigation is under way, if any of the above apply in your case, immediately seek competent legal representation from an IRS criminal tax defense attorney. Building a strong defense early in the investigation could be the determining factor whether your case will result in a conviction and time behind bars or merely be about money (additional tax, penalties and interest).

Because of the specialized nature of criminal tax law, very few attorneys are truly competent to handle this sort of tax controversy. The Tax Law Offices of David W. Klasing can help you navigate through your legal options if under an IRS criminal investigation.

irs criminal investigation

Get Help

If you think you are under an IRS criminal investigation, we can help! To protect your rights, we create a barrier between you and the IRS. Contact my Law Office or call 800.681.1295 for a reduced rate initial consultation.