The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has officially introduced the new Chief of the Criminal Investigation division. John D. (Don) Fort was appointed in June 2017 after former Chief Richard Weber announced his departure. This week, however, marked Fort’s first formal introduction to the media.
(You can read more about the former Chief of CI, Richard Weber, here.)
Fort is tasked with leading the IRS Division responsible for investigating criminal violations of the tax code and related financial crimes. It’s a new position but not unfamiliar territory: Fort has been with IRS-CI for 26 years. In 1991, Fort began work as a Special Agent with the Criminal Investigation Division in the Baltimore District. He moved on to positions as Supervisory Special Agent (Orlando, Florida); Senior Analyst and Acting Director, Office of Special Investigative Techniques, (CI Headquarters, Washington, DC); Assistant Special Agent in Charge (Baltimore and Washington DC Field Offices); Special Agent in Charge (Philadelphia Field Office); and Deputy Director of Strategy (CI Headquarters). Most recently, he was the Deputy Chief of CI where he supported the Chief in managing the day-to-day activities of the organization. He also advised the IRS Deputy Commissioner and IRS Commissioner on Criminal Investigation matters.
Fort now oversees a worldwide staff of nearly 3,300 employees, including approximately 2,200 special agents, who investigate crimes involving tax, money laundering, public corruption, cyber, ID theft, narcotics, and terrorist-financing.
As a department, Criminal Investigation promotes tax compliance, addresses emerging areas of fraud, and meets the needs of the law enforcement community by supporting national crime initiatives. CI is the only federal agency authorized to investigate and recommend prosecution of federal income tax cases. The work that the agency does is intended to have a maximum deterrent effect, enhance voluntary compliance, and promote public confidence in the tax system. That will not change. Fort says, as the new Chief, “CI Investigative Priorities remain the same.”
Fort says that CI will focus on three primary areas:
1. Traditional Tax Inventory. This is, says Fort, CI’s primary mission. Traditional tax cases are those that are referred to the DOJ, and include Employment Tax, Abusive Tax Schemes, International Tax Enforcement, Return Preparer Fraud, fraud referrals, and other general tax crimes. Work on these cases have declined of late, largely because of declining special agent resources (Fort’s politically correct way of stressing that Congressional cuts to the IRS budget have affected how many cases IRS-CI can pursue). To make up for the shortfall, IRS-CI plans to cut resources dedicated to IDT, or identity theft since there are fewer cases to work following prior investigative efforts and many of the remaining cases can be worked by other agencies. Other traditional tax cases deserve CI’s attention, according to Fort, because “these are complex investigations that require our financial expertise.”
2. Nationally Coordinated Investigations Unit (NCIU). CI plays a critical role in many national law enforcement priorities since many involve money and tracing financial transactions (the dark web for example). And that’s what CI does: it follows the money. Calling it “the future of IRS-CI,” NCIU relies on a wide range of data to identify and develop areas of non-compliance. This will, Fort explains, help better select criminal investigations. Examples of the kinds of projects from this group include U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Microcap Fraud, international tax enforcement, and employment tax.
3. International Tax Enforcement Group. Fort also introduced the creation of a new group that will be dedicated to working and developing significant international tax investigations. This group will consist of experts in international tax crimes, including agents that have successfully worked these cases (think FATCA, FIFA, Panama Papers) in the past. By consolidating these efforts, Fort says that CI can better control the cases and move between them more efficiently.
And while the emphasis in all of these cases focuses on crime, don’t forget the qualifier: these are tax crimes. Fort does have a tax background. In addition to his work in CI, he’s also a licensed CPA in the State of Virginia.