A former Internal Revenue Service revenue agent is facing trial this week for soliciting and receiving a bribe from the owner of a Seattle marijuana dispensary.
Paul G. Hurley was charged last September with soliciting and agreeing to receive a bribe by a public official and two counts of receiving a bribe by a public official (see IRS Agent Charged with Soliciting Bribe from Marijuana Dispensary).
According to prosecutors, Hurley was involved in the audit of the 2013 and 2014 tax returns of a Seattle marijuana dispensary known as Have A Heart Compassion Care. As marijuana remains illegal under federal law, no business deductions are allowed on federal tax returns and the gross revenue is taxable. Hurley presented the owner of the marijuana business, Ryan Kunkel, with a tax bill for both years, totaling more than $290,000. However, Hurley allegedly told Kunkel he had saved the business owner more than a million dollars and asked him for $20,000 in cash.
According to the Associated Press, during the audit Hurley rubbed his fingers together and suggested Kunkel should gradually pay off Hurley’s student loan debt. Kunkel initially told him that sounded like a bad idea, but eventually agreed to pay Hurley the cash.
The business owner alerted his lawyer, who contacted law enforcement. FBI agents watched and recorded two meetings at a Starbucks in which Hurley accepted money delivered by Kunkel. Hurley was arrested after the second meeting and resigned from the IRS three days later. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the bribery charges.
“My recent actions have no place in the Federal Service and there is no way I could possibly write an apology to express the dissatisfaction and disgust I have within myself,” he wrote to his supervisor at the IRS, according to the AP. “I have let everyone down in the Seattle office and all across the United States and have brought a cloud of shame to the Internal Revenue Service.”
However, Hurley later denied soliciting a bribe. Instead, according to his attorneys, Kunkel had offered Hurley a job doing accounting services for his marijuana business, and the $20,000 payment had nothing to do with Hurley’s official duties at the IRS. They argued the government had induced him to take the $20,000.
“In the present case, the alleged bribe was not solicited or accepted until after Mr. Hurley had completed his final audit,” they wrote in a trial brief, according to the AP. “Thus, the Government cannot meet its burden of proof that Mr. Hurley received the alleged bribe in ‘return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.’”
Prosecutors disagreed, noting that Hurley requested the $20,000 and Kunkel agreed to pay him on September 11. Hurley did not submit the final audit paperwork until September 15 and got the money on September 16 and 21.
“There is nothing in the bribery statute that requires a bribery payment be made before the official act is taken,” they wrote, according to the AP. “To the contrary, courts have routinely found that statute permits a conviction for bribery where the payment of the bribe is made after the official act is undertaken.”
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