IRS SOLICITS MEMBERS FOR ADVOCACY PANEL: The Internal Revenue Service is accepting applications for joining its Taxpayer Advocacy Panel.

The TAP provides a forum for citizens from each state to make suggestions regarding IRS decision-making, and works to identify and prioritize taxpayer issues.

"We are committed to working with taxpayers to improve the customer-service focus of the IRS," said Nina Olson, IRS National Taxpayer Advocate, in a statement. "Working with taxpayers directly helps us identify issues that may not be on the IRS radar screen. We can also hear their concerns about issues the IRS is already addressing."

TAP applicants must be U.S. citizens and be able to commit 300 to 500 hours during the year to the panel. In addition, they must be current with their tax obligations and pass a criminal background check.

The application is available at, or by calling (888) 912-1227.

Applications must be received by the TAP office by April 29.

JUSTICE SEEKS TO BAR BLOCK PREPARER: The Justice Department has asked a federal court to bar Ella Mae Peterson, a St. Louis preparer for H&R Block, from preparing income tax returns for others.

Peterson worked for 20 years at the St. Louis office. For tax years 2000 through 2003, she prepared 1,751 returns for Block customers. Internal Revenue Service audits of 31 of those returns revealed improper deductions on each return.

The deductions included fictitious or inflated charitable contributions, business and medical expenses, and state and local taxes paid. The complaint estimates that returns that Peterson prepared for the tax years from 2000 to 2003 have cost the Treasury more than $6.5 million.

"People who prepare false or fraudulent tax returns cheat their customers and unfairly shift the tax burden to honest American taxpayers," said Eileen J. O'Connor, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Tax Division. "If you have your tax return prepared, review it carefully, and make sure that what you file with the Internal Revenue Service is accurate."

Block spokesperson Nancy Wagoner stated, "Our training, monitoring and supervision of tax professionals is unquestionably the best in the industry. Should an incident such as this occur, we do our best to learn from the situation and communicate the appropriate messages to both our clients and our tax professionals."

"H&R Block's policy is to cooperate fully with authorities on any investigation, and we have done so in this case," she continued. "We do not, however, comment on employee matters."

IRS, JUSTICE HERALD ENFORCEMENT MEASURES: The government is upping its enforcement measures in the wake of its success in catching tax cheats, penalizing promoters, barring unscrupulous preparers and shutting down abusive tax shelters, according to officials.

At a joint Internal Revenue Service-Justice Department briefing, agency executives noted that last year, IRS Criminal Investigation referred more than 3,000 cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, nearly a 20 percent increase over the previous year. During fiscal year 2004, the conviction rate on cases investigated by the IRS and referred to Justice was 95.4 percent.

"If you're thinking about cheating on your taxes, think twice," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "The IRS is ramping up its enforcement efforts, particularly for high-income individuals and corporations. Where we need to, we turn to the Justice Department to take people to court."

The Justice Department's Tax Division's criminal enforcement priorities include prosecuting schemes that involve using trusts or other entities to conceal control over income and assets; shifting assets and income to hidden offshore accounts; claiming fictitious deductions; using frivolous justifications for not filing truthful tax returns; failing to withhold, report and pay payroll and income taxes; failing to report income; and failing to file tax returns.

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