Special agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division want to talk to you. What do you do? In an effort to seem cooperative, you may agree to answer their questions. This is often a mistake. In fact, the wisest approach is the same as it would be for law enforcement – politely decline and say you need to talk to your attorney.
The consequences of talking without a lawyer present were painfully illustrated recently in a case involving Father Hien Minh Nguyen, a Catholic priest in San Jose, California. When agents showed up to talk to Father Nguyen, he agreed. In trying to talk his way out of the situation, he ended up giving inconsistent answers and becoming flustered. The conversation ended with Father Nguyen admitting he was guilty of tax evasion – all before a lawyer was there to protect his legal rights.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to protect yourself against self-incrimination. As such, if the criminal division of the IRS comes calling, you are not required to talk to them. Even if you are just a witness or person of interest, you still need legal representation. Saying the wrong thing without a lawyer present can quickly transform you from a witness to the suspect in the eyes of the IRS.
Instead of agreeing to the interview, ask for the agent’s business card. Say you are fully willing to cooperate through your legal counsel, and will have your attorney contact him or her as soon as possible. Then be sure you retain legal counsel that has the knowledge and experience to properly represent your best interests.