Crime & Courts
IRS gets help fighting identity theft tax fraud
TAMPA - The number of IRS criminal investigators in the Tampa area more than doubled Friday when 30 officers from 10 state and local agencies were sworn in as IRS deputies. The additional manpower is part of a comprehensive effort to combat the identity theft tax refund fraud that has exploded in the area the last few years, allowing criminals to steal hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars locally and billions nationwide. Until Friday, there were fewer than 25 IRS criminal investigators assigned to the area, according to James Robnett, the local agent in charge of IRS criminal investigations. Deputizing the officers with the IRS will allow them some access to taxpayer information needed for investigations and will help with cases that cross jurisdictional boundaries.Tampa Police Capt. Mike Baumaister, one of the newly sworn in IRS investigators, said the fact the police department now has six IRS investigators will help in cases where criminals file fraudulent tax returns in Tampa and have the refunds sent out of state or to another county. “You’ll see a lot more people going to prison, a lot more people under indictment,” he said. The fraud, Baumaister said, “hasn’t gone away,” but it does seem to have slowed. Police Chief Jane Castor said the deputizing is “a significant step, and one of many that have been made lately” to fight tax refund fraud. “I’m optimistic, where I wasn’t when we first started” investigating this kind of crime about three years ago. “While the progress might not be as quick or as far reaching as we would like, at least we are moving forward,” the chief said. Officers from the following agencies were among those sworn in Friday: the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tampa, Clearwater, Largo, Brooksville and St. Petersburg police departments and deputies from Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Hernando County sheriffs’ offices.