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IRS special agent challenges system
Posted By Sarah Foster On 03/26/1999 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
|Joe Banister, on the job with IRS|
“The Internal Revenue Service is everything the so-called tax protesters said it was; non-responsive, unable to withstand scrutiny, tyrannical, and oblivious to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.”
That’s how Joseph Banister – a certified public accountant who, until last month, was an investigator and gunslinger for the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS – now regards his former employer. His conclusion is based in part on a personal two-year investigation into the agency’s history and purpose – an investigation he began somewhat reluctantly, never expecting he’d reach the conclusion he did.
His research led him to question its very legality and constitutionality. Deeply disturbed by his discoveries, he summarized these in a report which, in February, he sent to his supervisors, and asked them to respond to three allegations:
“All the time I was doing my research, I looked for snags – looked for things that would prove that everything I was reading and finding out was wrong,” Banister told WorldNetDaily. “I had taken this job thinking I’d be wearing the white hat, and I slowly found out I was not wearing the white hat. So something had to change.”
The change came quickly last month, when the IRS accepted Banister’s offer of resignation rather than respond to the questions raised. He is believed to be the first IRS-CID special agent who – having determined to his satisfaction that certain allegations about the income tax were true – confronted the hierarchy at the IRS about his findings.
He has paid dearly for this.
“It’s the end of my dream of a career in law enforcement,” he said, recalling in a telephone interview the series of events that propelled him from the ranks of armed federal agents to the camp of those reviled by the government as tax protesters. The action also cost him his $80,000 a year job.
Banister, 36, had dreamed that dream for a long time. In 1986, he graduated with a degree in business administration from San Jose State University in the San Francisco Bay area, and for the next three years worked for KPMG Peat Marwick as a senior tax specialist and staff auditor.
A gentle, soft-spoken man – who chooses his words carefully – he would seem ideally suited to a job dealing with numbers and accounting. Just the kind of job he had, but it wasn’t enough.
“I wanted to get into law enforcement, but had recently (in 1990) gotten my certified public accountant certificate,” he explained. “I wondered if there wasn’t some way a CPA could wear a uniform, gun and a badge.”
A skilled marksman – Banister has been a member of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America since 1991 and 1992, respectively – he began exploring the federal law enforcement agencies for employment opportunities.
In 1991 he applied for a position at both the FBI and IRS-CID, “in case the FBI job didn’t work out.” Due to a hiring freeze, the FBI kept him at “in a holding pattern” for two years. So when in August 1993, the IRS-CID phoned and asked if he were still interested in working for them, Banister said yes. Although his heart was set on the FBI, working for the IRS as a special agent had definite advantages. He could work in his hometown of San Jose, and not have to move around the country – as working for the FBI might have required. This was something his wife and sons greatly appreciated. “We’ll treat you just as we do every taxpayer – no special favors,” he was promised.
And the IRS was as good as its word.
As part of his background check, Banister’s financial affairs were closely audited. Told he owed $4,000, he fought the charge and won – and even received a $1,000 refund. Despite this small skirmish with the auditors, he was hired anyway, and in December 1993 embarked on his new career as “an accountant with a badge and a gun,” as IRS-CID special agents are called.
“The most important day of my career was probably the first day, when I swore an oath to God to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Banister recalled. “I have always taken that oath very seriously.”
The newly sworn-in agent enjoyed the changes of pace his work demanded. As one of the 3,000 IRS-CID officers nationwide, Banister was authorized to execute and serve search and arrest warrants, to make arrests without warrant, to carry firearms, and seize property subject to forfeiture. He was eventually advanced to the position of asset forfeiture coordinator and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force coordinator for the Central California District.
He was a firearms instructor for his fellow agents.
“I loved my job,” he said. “I was able to do very complicated financial analyses, yet every three months I’d go out and do my shotgun and handgun qualification. I had to do a variety of things and handle a number of situations from helping serve the most scary search warrant to sitting in court and testifying about a 10-year, $10 million financial analysis.”
Banister knew the reputation the IRS had earned; that the very name, IRS, inspired fear in people. But, he was not troubled by that and hoped to change public perception.
“I wasn’t personally responsible for the IRS reputation,” he explained. “I thought in my small way I’d make a difference. I knew it was an unpopular tax, but what tax isn’t unpopular? I figured that if it had to be administered it should be administered by people who didn’t let the power go to their heads and behave like idiots. If that happened, if the officers knew they were to serve the people, then everything would be OK.
“As corny as it sounds, that’s what I believed,” he said.
If it hadn’t been for a particular talk radio host, Banister might still be a special agent. He liked the work, which included opportunities to listen to talk radio. One of his favorite talk show hosts is Geoff Metcalf, a popular conservative West Coast talk show host and WorldNetDaily columnist.
As he tells it: “In December 1996, I was driving around in my government car and listening to Geoff Metcalf, whom I really like. He had a woman named Devvy Kidd as a guest, and I’d never heard of her – but she was saying all this stuff about how the income tax was voluntary and the 16th Amendment was never ratified. If she hadn’t been on Metcalf’s show, I’d have dismissed her as one of those kooky tax protesters we’d been warned about. But being on Metcalf’s show lent real credibility. I figured he wouldn’t have someone on unless she had something valuable to say.”
Kidd, a writer and activist, had recently moved with her husband to California from Colorado. She and constitutional attorney Larry Becraft of Huntsville, Alabama, have founded the Wallace Institute, named after Scottish freedom fighter, William “Braveheart” Wallace.
Curious, but skeptical, Banister sent for Kidd’s two booklets – “Why a Bankrupt America” and “Blind Loyalty” – and began studying. Looking back, he describes himself as “so uninformed. I didn’t know the underlying issues.”
“There was so much. There was information about the Federal Reserve System and quotes from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx.). It was overwhelming,” he said.
Despite a heavy workload and family commitments, he persisted.
“I’m not only a criminal investigator, I’m basically curious. I don’t take anybody’s word for things. And this research took me a long time. I was working 50 hours a week to support a wife and kids. It took a while to find the time to do it, but I kept at it.”
Banister contacted Kidd and the other writers she listed in her books. There was William Benson, who with Red Beckman had co-authored “The Law that Never Was,” which convinced Banister that the 16th Amendment had never been ratified.
He phoned Bill Conklin. “He’s the guy that says filing income tax returns is voluntary,” Banister explained, impressed particularly by fact that Conklin has offered a $50,000 reward to anyone who can prove him wrong – “and it’s still waiting for someone to collect it.”
For background on the Federal Reserve System Banister turned to “The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at
the Federal Reserve,” by G. Edward Griffin, published by American Media.
In addition, he turned to the statute books themselves and examined the court cases, to see if all these claims and charges he was hearing about for the first time were true. His conclusions:
“The court cases checked out, just as I had been told they would,” he said. “The cases can be read in any law library, they haven’t been overruled. To this day I haven’t been able to find any untruths about what Devvy Kidd has said about the Federal Reserve and the income tax. Everything she said has checked out.”
Small wonder Banister found himself asking himself more and more – “My gosh, what am I part of?”
In early February, Banister submitted his findings – which he had compiled in a report – to his superiors at the IRS, asking that they pass along his allegations to those high in the IRS so that they could respond to the three allegations. This was done. Banister learned his report and the allegations were circulated at the highest levels – including the legal department.
As promised at the beginning of his career, the IRS responded to the once-eager special agent as they do to any taxpayer who asks embarrassing questions about the constitutionality of the income tax and the 16th Amendment. On Feb. 17, Banister was called into his supervisor’s office, and assured his report had been reviewed “by the highest levels of the IRS.” Then he was handed a memo dated that day, presenting the typical non-response:
“The Internal Revenue Service will not be responding to your request and will provide you with the necessary paperwork to tender your resignation,” his supervisor wrote. “You will be placed on administrative leave effective upon receipt of this memorandum for a period of seven calendar days to consider what actions you wish to take.”
Banister says he was “astonished” and “confused,” at the response – or rather “the lack of it.” After all, he had worked for the agency five years. He believed his allegations were serious enough to warrant a response. Even a personal plea to Commissioner Charles Rossotti himself, wasn’t enough. His career as a special agent was so much dust.
Banister reports no retaliatory actions have been taken. He has not been followed; his phone appears to be untapped.
He is working to have his CPA license reinstated so he can return to the private sector, but he hopes his action will inspire both members of the public and his fellow agents to take some kind of action – perhaps to demand a thorough review and examination by Congress; something that’s never been done.
Says Banister: “I never intended to write a report, but I needed to tell more than one person what I had found. I can’t tell people not to file, but I figure if people learn that their tax dollars are going simply to pay interest on a debt and doesn’t go to run the government, if they know they have certain rights – they’ll do something.
“So I’m not advocating anything. I’m just trying to tell people the truth. People get mad if their auto mechanic overcharges them by 50 bucks. If they find out the whole darn income tax system is a big fraud, I’m hoping they’ll get mad enough to do something about it.”
There has been speculation circulated on the Internet that Banister is a “plant” – an agent provocateur – sent by the IRS to infiltrate the ranks of the tax protest movement.
Those questioned by WorldNetDaily dispute these charges.
“No way,” says Kidd. “I’ve talked to him, and he didn’t just jump in – I had to really work to convince him. Besides, he’s not advocating anything. He’s not saying not to file, he’s not saying not to pay taxes. He’s not doing any of that. He’s a really decent guy who loves his family and his country.”
Bill Benson, co-author of the “Law that Never Was,” agrees.
“I’ve spent hours and hours talking to Joe,” Benson says. “We talked many times on the phone over the course of a year; it wasn’t just one casual conversation. If he were a fraud, somewhere in the course of a year I’d have detected something.
“As Joe has discovered – and will come forward to testify – there is no law in the Internal Revenue Code that requires anyone to file a 1040 form or pay an income tax. He’s done a great service for the people in this country.”
Steve Hempfling, director of the Free Enterprise Society, a citizens group based in Fresno, California, also vouches for Banister’s authenticity.
“This (Banister’s defection from the IRS) could be the most important event to hit the tax-protest movement in years, he says. “Because of his credibility this could start a major tidal wave for the IRS to deal with, if he hangs in there.
“I like him; I think he’s sincere,” Hempfling continued. “He’s done what we’ve always asked the government officials to do: read our material and show us where we’re wrong. He did what we asked. He actually looked it over and couldn’t find anything wrong – so he came over to our side.”
Joe Banister will be speaking in person at the Free Enterprise Society convention in San Jose, California, April 10-11.
A copy of his report, Investigating the Federal Income Tax, can be ordered from his website.
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