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IRS officer faces countersuit from government

The government has counter-sued a Las Vegas Internal Revenue Service officer who claims he was targeted in a criminal investigation because he raised discrimination allegations against the federal agency.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office alleged in the suit, filed last week, that the IRS lost $100,000 after Revenue Officer Anthony M. Zecchino closed taxpayer collection cases without authorization in 2010 and 2011.

“Closing an account can result in the lapse of any period of limitation within which to pursue legal remedies against the taxpayer, or the occurrence of other contingencies preventing collection, with the consequence that the taxpayer’s liability to the government can become legally uncollectable, ” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Wenthe wrote.

Wenthe alleged that Zecchino made false entries in the IRS computer system indicating a manager had approved the account closings and concealed his actions until he was confronted by internal Treasury Department investigators.

Zecchino’s lawyer, former federal prosecutor Paul Padda, said the government’s allegations have no merit, and Zecchino didn’t do the things being alleged.

“Under the theory advanced by the government against Mr. Zecchino, every federal prosecutor could be personally liable for failing to pursue all aspects of a case, including forfeiture,” Padda said. “Given the way the government is pursing its case against Mr. Zecchino, it’s no wonder morale is at an all-rime low among federal employees.”

In court papers this week responding to the counterclaim, Padda said the Treasury Department was trying to “take the focus off of its own illegal and inappropriate conduct.”

Zecchino, 41, alleged in a lawsuit in May that the IRS enlisted the help of the U.S. Attorney’s office to target him in a criminal investigation in retaliation for discrimination claims he filed.

Lew was the only defendant named in the suit.

“Dangling the threat of criminal prosecution over the head of any employee who has made legitimate complaints about discrimination is the ultimate abuse of government power,” Padda told the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time.

The lawsuit contended that Zecchino, who has worked for the IRS for 14 years, received a target letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Newman about a month after his lawyers filed a discrimination complaint alleging Zecchino’s supervisors made derogatory remarks about his Italian heritage.

In the March letter, Newman said an internal Treasury Department investigation concluded that Zecchino may have violated two federal criminal statutes — unlawful acts by revenue officers and theft of government funds — when he “improperly and fraudulently” closed collection cases that still had identifiable assets available for collection.

The target letter did not state that Zecchino took any money for his own benefit, and his lawyers said there was no proof he profited from any of his actions. He has not been charged in the criminal investigation.

“In this case, there is no evidence, let alone the suggestion, that Mr. Zecchino personally benefited from the alleged actions identified in the couterclaim,” Padda said in his court papers this week.

The target letter was an effort to intimidate him into abandoning his discrimination claims against the IRS, Padda said earlier this year.

According to the suit, one of Zecchino’s supervisors once asked him whether “all Italians dress like pimps” and on another occasion remarked that he collected taxes “like the Godfather and the Sopranos.”

The supervisor’s boss ignored the allegations and embarked on a “deranged and retaliatory” campaign against Zecchino that led to his demotion, denial of 240 hours of sick leave and targeting in the criminal investigation, the lawsuit alleged.

Zecchino, the suit explained, was relegated to manning a reception kiosk at the IRS and denied an opportunity to transfer outside Nevada.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Followhim on Twitter @JGermanRJ.

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