If you get an IRS audit notice, you probably expect to spend hours responding to endless document requests, visiting bland government offices, and meeting with faceless bureaucrats. You might hope you get lucky and find yourself assigned to a pleasant, friendly examiner, one who acknowledges how intrusive and annoying the audit process can be. But you certainly wouldn't expect to wind up in bed with the auditor!
Vincent Burroughs is a 40ish contractor and amateur motorcycle racer in Fall Creek, Oregon. When the economy collapsed in 2008, his business suffered and he got behind on his taxes. In 2011, the IRS came calling. The auditor, Dora Abrahamson, recognized him from his motorcycle racing, and apparently liked what she saw. Burroughs claims Abrahamson started flirting with him over the telephone and by text message ("[I] need a hug badly, do you have one?"), offered him massages, and even sent him a "selfie" in a revealing pose!
Burroughs figured he had a friend at the IRS, so he didn't stop the flirting. In September 2011, Abrahamson visited him at his house to give him a hand with his papers. She showed up "provocatively attired," he says. She told him she could impose no penalty, or a 40 percent penalty. And she said if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what he needed. After an awkward series of events that we don't need to detail here, the two wound up in bed. Shortly thereafter, Abrahamson stepped down from the case due to a conflict of interest, and the new auditor told Burroughs he owed $69,000.
Abrahamson's conduct caused Burroughs "to be agitated, depressed, and unable to sleep." It also made his girlfriend unhappy. (Uh oh.) So Burroughs sued Abrahamson and the IRS, seeking unspecified punitive damages. He claimed the IRS failed to properly supervise Abrahamson for, among other things, "permitting her carnal desires to overcome her judgment that it was inappropriate to pursue a sexual relationship with a taxpayer she was auditing," "failing to seek and follow through on getting help for her psychological problems," and "failing to sufficiently train Defendant Abrahamson on how to avoid situations which could lead to the appearance or actuality of sexual conduct with taxpayers being audited or investigated."
Unfortunately for Burroughs, the Federal Tort Claims Act waives immunity for government employees only when the injuries they cause take place within the scope of the employment. U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin ruled that Abrahamson's conduct did not occur substantially within the time and space limits authorized by her employment, was not motivated by a purpose to serve the employer, and was not of a kind that she was hired to perform. Therefore, it did not occur within the scope of her employment — so the IRS is off the hook! (News reports are less clear on whether Burroughs is off the hook with his girlfriend.)
The case has naturally attracted all sorts of press. Burroughs appeared on ABC's 20/20. And we thank Tonight Show host Jay Leno for making the obvious IRS joke so we don't have to!
What other lessons can we draw from this week's sad story? Well, if you do ever get an audit notice, call us before you try and handle it yourself! We'll make sure you get all the professional assistance you need to defend your financial interests and even your dignity.
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