A new agreement aims to stop federal prisoners from filing for and collecting millions of dollars in bogus tax refunds from their cells.
Pressure from U.S. senators in New York, Ohio, Minnesota and Florida in January led to an agreement signed Wednesday between the Internal Revenue Service and the federal Bureau of Prisons to break down bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to end the practice. The memorandum of understanding struck between the two agencies overcomes legal obstacles that hindered their own efforts and paves the way for states to make similar agreements that apply to their prisons.
“The impasse needed to end, and today it’s over,” Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Wednesday, adding that the agencies responded quickly. “This agreement means that prisoners will no longer be able to bilk taxpayers out of millions of dollars.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said the agreement effectively cuts through unnecessary red tape to “stop felons from scamming the system.”
“It’s shocking that inmates are ripping off the taxpayers right under the government’s nose,” said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the case shows “government agencies need to work together to prevent tax fraud wherever it occurs, but especially when we’re being bilked from behind bars.”
The senators pushed the agencies to cooperate after a federal audit showed the practice continued, despite a 2008 law aimed at stopping it.
The Bureau of Prisons and the IRS, however, had already been cracking down on the scheme and made several arrests and recoveries of refunds.
But even though the 2008 measure gave the IRS the authority to turn over tax data to prison officials, there was a glitch in carrying out the law. While the IRS could flag suspicious behavior, the Bureau of Prisons felt it needed to share the information with the Justice Department before taking action against prisoners, in the event the prisoners sued.
But the IRS, under tax law, felt it couldn’t share tax information with prison officials if they would share it with any entity outside the bureau, including the Justice Department.
“This memorandum of understanding allows us to receive information from the IRS when they suspect inmates have filed fraudulent taxes,” said Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross. “Because of privacy issues, we were unable to do that prior.”