Letter to a young Enrolled Agent on the topic of tax fraud

I wrote this comment to an enrolled agent struggling with a client committing tax fraud who described herself as naïve about the human behavior behind it.

“XXXXXXX, this is a general comment and not in any way meant as a negative personal thing. I would suspect that anyone putting the massive time and effort to earn an Enrolled Agent designation would have plenty of time to think about taxes and their role in society, the range psychological positions, and how we wish to conduct our own lives and tax businesses.

Yes, tax fraud is rampant. It always has been and always will be. Most tax cheats get away with it. Past societies placed the severed heads of tax cheats on poles along highways as a deterrent. We don’t do that. We do choose who we wish to be in the world, what causes we promote through those we choose to work for, and what type of people we have as clients. I have certainly worked for tax cheat clients. But they are crystal clear on the law and my responsibility as a tax preparer or adviser. They know I won’t prepare a fraudulent tax return. But they also know that I will move mountains to lower their tax bill over time if we work together.

There are many things in this world we can’t solve; those that are complex and morally challenging. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up in complex situations, for example, if we don’t know the best tax advice to give a client who has an illegal pot farm or messy international transactions. But there are other cases, like the one you describe, that are clear and simple and so our personal and professional identities are on the line based on how we respond.

Life and career is a giant ongoing lesson for all of us. May you continue in yours adding to these lessons to the point when you view yourself not as naive, but as a strong leader and community influencer on matters of social tax behavior.”

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