A judge has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to pay more than $250,000 after determining an IRS agent disclosed confidential information during a criminal investigation.

A U.S. District Court Judge ruled the agent, Robert Jackson, made dozens of illegal disclosures of taxpayer information while interviewing witnesses in an investigation into illegal immigrant workers in the Ozarks.

In July 2001, the IRS began investigating National Sales, a business providing housekeeping workers for hotels in the Ozarks. The owner, Leonard Snider, and a recruiter for his business, Theresa Turley, still remain under investigation by a grand jury for nonpayment of taxes, employment of undocumented aliens and the filing of false identification documents.

According to the court's ruling, Jackson told potential witnesses in the government's case that the trio were under investigation, outlining the charges in some cases and, in others, telling people that the business had previously been investigated for tax fraud and hiring illegal aliens.

Jackson said witnesses in the case inferred the information from his line of questioning. He also argued the disclosures were within recognized exceptions to the law. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said that the government was disappointed with the decision and may appeal.Snider and Turley sued the government, saying Jackson violated an IRS code barring the disclosure of taxpayer information. Snider, who lost his business, was awarded $132,000; Turley received $87,000; and the defunct National Sales was given $31,589. The bulk of those settlements were in punitive damages as the judge found the disclosures to be willful.

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