It will also hurt government coffers, they add, since IRS probes can
bring in hefty fines.
The division investigates a variety of financial misconduct, from
tax fraud and money laundering to identity theft, narcotics and
counter-terrorism. Federal prosecutors around the country often seek
help for cases involving money issues.
Recent high-profile investigations include probes into tax evasion
by Credit Suisse Group AG <CSGN.VX> and Sudan, Cuba and Iran
sanctions violations by BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA>, which resulted in
settlements of $2.5 billion and $9 billion, respectively. IRS
Criminal Investigation has also been involved in public corruption
cases such as the conviction of Jesse Jackson Jr., a former U.S.
Representative and the son of civil rights leader Reverend Jesse
Jackson Sr., for misusing campaign funds.
"The reason they are so important is because of the tax angle," said
Ronald Machen Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia,
adding that he wished there were more agents. "When you are looking
at individuals who steal money, they are always going to want to
claim less on their taxes than they have in their various bank
According to data seen by Reuters, the division expects to see the
number of special agents decline to 2,130 by fiscal year 2016 due to
attrition, down 13 percent from this year. That is despite hiring 48
agents this year. At its peak in 1995, the agency had 3,358 agents.
Richard Weber, the divisionís chief, carries around a pocket-sized,
laminated card with a bar graph showing how his agency has been
shrinking over the years as its budget fell. Weber in an interview
said his goal is to get the number of special agents back up to at
"We cannot continue to lose agents to retirement and not replace
them. We are at the same staffing levels that we were at in the
1970s. This is not sustainable," he said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a separate interview said the lack
of resources means the unit is starting fewer investigations. "There
are fewer cases that you can take," Koskinen said. He did not give
Overall, Koskinen estimates, the IRS, through criminal
investigations as well as other activities, like audits and
collection efforts, brings in $50 billion to $60 billion a year for
the government, or 5 to 6 times its budget of about $11 billion. He
did not say how much of that was due to the investigative unit, as
opposed to audits carried out by another IRS group.
The rise of the Tea Party movement, which professes minimalist
government, and an IRS scandal, has made the agency's life tougher.
[to top of second column]
The IRS saw its budget cut by about $600 million last year as a
result of the sequester, the automatic spending cuts that were
triggered when congressional negotiators failed to reach a budget
deal. Koskinen said most other agencies saw their budgets return to
pre-sequester levels in the 2014 federal budget, but not the IRS.
The IRS also last year revealed that it gave extra scrutiny to
conservative "Tea Party" groups applying for nonprofit status.
Republicans responded with a storm of criticism and budget cuts,
saying the agency was using its budget improperly.
Last month, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives
voted to cut the IRS' enforcement budget in 2015 by over $1 billion.
Koskinen estimates the latest budget cuts would cost the government
somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion of additional revenues.
A proposal in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, would increase
the IRS enforcement budget by $31.6 million -- still $318 million
below the Administration's budget request.
Weber got some relief this year. After a hiring and travel freeze
over the past two years, the division got approval to hire 48 new
agents for 2014. In comparison, the FBI got approval to hire 2,000
new agents this year.
Half of the 48 IRS criminal investigation agents are on the first
leg of a 16-week training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training
Center in Georgia. Once the students graduate, they are assigned a
field office, but it can take up to two years for any of them to
lead a complex case on their own, Weber said.
(Reporting By Nadia Damouni; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Peter
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