Tax Informants Are On The Loose

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A new federal rewards program dishes out cash to people who turn in friends, relatives and employers for fudging their tax returns.

UBS informant Bradley Birkenfeld in Boston. He's facing 40 months in jail but could leave prison with millions in reward money.

For 24 years Vincent A. Spondello toiled away as an accountant for a group of related companies known as Monex, a large Newport Beach, Calif. precious metals dealer. A trusted employee, he prepared tax returns and was given such tasks as overseeing the destruction of old corporate documents. It turns out that some records that were supposedly destroyed he took home instead.

In May Spondello sent 25 boxes of original Monex papers to the Internal Revenue Service--documents that could buttress the IRS' claim that Monex's owners fraudulently moved around assets to avoid a $378 million tax bill. He made his document drop after hiring lawyers and filing a claim for a whistleblower reward that could total $57 million or more. Monex denies it owes anything, has fired Spondello and is demanding back its documents.

Yahoo! Buzz"He's a good guy," says Spondello lawyer Robert D. Coviello. "But he is a rat."

Pay attention. There are Vincent Spondellos taking notes, taking names and taking documents across America, and beyond.

For years the IRS grudgingly paid stingy rewards to squealers who brought it mostly small cases; during 2004 and 2005, 428 informants received a total of $12 million--only 7% of the paltry $168 million all their leads brought in. But in 2006, hoping to entice insiders to rat out big-dollar cheats and corporate tax shelters and games, Congress directed the IRS to pay tipsters at least 15% and as much as 30% of taxes, penalties and interest collected in cases where $2 million or more is at stake.

The gambit seems to be working very well. The IRS continues to get thousands of small case tips a year. But in fiscal 2009, ended Oct. 30, the IRS Whistleblower Office also logged big case leads on 1,900 taxpayers, up from 1,246 in fiscal 2008, the first full year the new law was in effect. Dozens of these tips involve purported tax losses of $100 million or more. Sure, those are just allegations. But informants "often provide extensive documentation to support their claims,'' the Whistleblower Office noted in a report. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a separate report, added up all the 2008 tips and found that $65 billion in unreported income was alleged.

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Tax Informants Are On The Loose -

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