Cincinnati IRS employees to be interviewed in House investigation on targeting tea party groups
Greg Noble, WCPO Digital
4:38 PM, May 16, 2013
4:07 AM, May 17, 2013
CINCINNATI - A House committee is seeking interviews from at least four IRS employees believed to be from Cincinnati as it investigates the agency for improperly targeting tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status.
The head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested transcribed interviews with the four – and one other IRS employee - in a letter to acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller on Wednesday. Miller resigned on Wednesday in the weight of the political firestorm over the IRS activity.
In the letter, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) did not explain why these five employees were chosen and made no accusations that they engaged in criminal activity.
WCPO Digital has confirmed through a congressional spokesperson that the four believed to be from Cincinnati are John Shafer, a screening manager who began in March 2012; Gary Muthert, a screener who also began in March 2012; Liz Hofacre, a case coordinator from April 2010 to October 2010; and Joseph Herr, a group manager from April 2010 to August 2010.
The fifth employee requested for an interview is identified as Holly Paz. She is believed to be a director of rulings and agreements in Washington, D.C., and has been in that position since February 2012, but held the position of acting manager and acting director in 2011, and at the start of 2010 was listed as an EO (Exempt Organizations) technical. An organizational chart in the inspector general's report shows the director of rulings and agreements to be the oversight of the Cincinnati determinations department. That's where the four employees believed to be from Cincinnati work.
A Treasury Department inspector general's probe concluded this week that lax management enabled Cincinnati agents to improperly target tea party groups. The report laid much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.
Last week, IRS division chief Lois Lerner blamed low-level workers in the Cincinnati office for flagging tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny over the past two years. Lerner said the employees acted on their own with no direction from higher-ups.
A few days later, Miller said the agency pinpointed two "rogue" employees in the Cincinnati IRS office as being responsible for "overly aggressive" handling of tea party requests, according to a CNN report. Miller described the employees in a meeting on Capitol Hill and said they were "off the reservation," CNN said.
Miller is scheduled to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday. Also testifying is J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration who conducted the recent investigation.
The Cincinnati IRS office in the downtown federal building employs more than 700 people working in 14 divisions from taxpayer assistance to Tax Exempt/Government Entities (TEGE), the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status.
Cincinnati TEGE workers started targeting groups with "Tea Party," "Patriots" or "9/12 Project" in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general's report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.
The report said that while their applications languished in the Cincinnati office, tea party groups were asked a host of inappropriate questions, including: Who are your donors? What are the political affiliations of officers? What issues are important to the organization, and what are your positions on those issues? Will any officers in the group run for public office? Where do you work?
One of the tea party groups whose application was held up more than three years by the IRS is located in House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio district.
"My question is, who's going to jail over this scandal?" Boehner said. "There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax exempt status. I think we need to know who they are and whether they violated the law.
"Clearly someone violated the law," Boehner said.
You can read an example of an extra questionnaire some tea party members were sent from the IRS seeking more information about trying to obtain 501 C3 tax-exempt status below or athttp://goo.gl/ph8mW.
The inspector general's report does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups. But it does say a top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.
The House Oversight Committee is to hold a hearing Wednesday. Invited to testify are former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, Lerner and George.
Issa's letter told Miller to expect more IRS employees to be summoned for transcribed interviews.
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday.
You can read the Treasury inspector's general report on these incidents below or athttp://goo.gl/o5mCN.