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Could testifying for the IRS result in criminal tax charges?

Catholic priests may be well acquainted with confession. However, a recent article illustrates why this approach may not have been in one specific priest's best interests during a recent interview with agents from the Internal Revenue Service.  

The 56-year old priest was approached by agents from the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division. Although the agents informed the priest of his legal right not to answer their questions, the priest did not utilize his right to an attorney. When his answers to the agents’ questions started to conflict and became inconsistent, the priest apparently confessed to some incriminating behaviors.

According to the allegations, the priest stole money from his parishioners over a four-year period, deposited those funds in his own bank accounts, and did not pay income taxes or report the money on his tax returns. A criminal tax lawsuit ensued, and at court, the priest ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge of tax evasion. His sentence could include imprisonment up to five years, in addition to penalties.

As a law firm that has helped may clients with IRS controversies, we caution against any communications made outside the presence of one’s attorney. This precaution is recommended even one is approached merely as a witness to another criminal case. Although that qualification may be true at the time, there is no guarantee that the ensuing conversation won’t help the IRS to build a subsequent criminal case against a former witness.

Indeed, witnesses can become the subject of their own criminal tax investigations. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the constitutional right against self-incrimination also extends to situations where an individual is offering testimony only as a witness, rather than as a defendant.

Source: Forbes, “Catholic Priest Guilty Of Tax Evasion Shows IRS Interview Risks,” Robert W. Wood, Aug. 10, 2016

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