A former IRS agent who believes citizens are not required to pay federal income taxes was acquitted today on charges he attempted to defraud the government.
Joseph Banister, a certified public accountant in San Jose, Calif., had been telling his clients they don’t need to file federal income tax returns because the 16th Amendment, which gives Congress “power to lay and collect taxes on incomes,” was never properly ratified.
A leading figure in the “tax honesty” movement, Banister was taken into custody Nov. 19 by IRS agents and released on $25,000 bond after pleading not guilty.
A jury in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento found him not guilty on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government and on all three counts of aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns for a client.
Banister’s attorney, Robert Bernhoft, told WorldNetDaily the result has no direct bearing on the legitimacy of the 16th Amendment, but he insisted the implications are bigger than the issue of taxes.
“The outcome shows that average, law-abiding, hard-working citizens are not going to criminalize speech — they’re not going to send a man to prison for asking the federal government serious questions about a serious subject,” he said.
Last fall, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke insisted Banister’s arguments against the federal income tax already had been thoroughly vetted.
“Many constitutional or legal arguments have been tried in the courts, and without fail, they have been held to be without merit,” he told WND.
Banister’s website offers a defense of his views, including an 85-page report titled “Investigating The Federal Income Tax: A Preliminary Report.”
The federal indictment accused Banister and co-defendant Walter A. Thompson, of Redding, Calif., of conspiring to defraud the United States of approximately $259,669 in income and employment taxes. In a separate trial, Thompson was acquitted of conspiracy and found guilty on charges unrelated to Banister.
If Banister had been convicted of all counts, he could have been sentenced to 14 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.
Banister left public practice as a CPA in 1993 to become an armed, criminal investigator in the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. But he says he resigned after six years because he was “unable to resolve conflicts” between the way the IRS administered the federal income tax and his oath of office.
As WorldNetDaily reported in March 2004, Banister claimed the IRS was illegally using “enforcers” to monitor his political activities and build its case against him. The IRS filed a complaint March 19, 2003, and began what he calls the agency’s “mission to silence and discredit me.”
In 1996, while working for the IRS, Banister says his view of tax law was jolted when he heard radio talk host Geoff Metcalf interview activist Devvy Kidd on KSFO in San Francisco.
After receiving information from Kidd, Banister used his spare time over two-and-a-half years to compile a report for his superiors, telling them that if they cannot find anything wrong with his analysis, he would have to resign.
Banister said his superiors refused to respond to his report and told him they would facilitate his resignation.