Don't Mess With the Dates on Tax Documents

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An Internal Revenue Service employee has learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to alter official date stamps in order to appear to have timely submitted work products to the agency. (Gabrielli v. Department of the Treasury, C.A.F.C. No. 2009-3042 (nonprecedential), 4/1/09) The facts outlined below are taken from the federal appeals court’s decision.

Ms. Gabrielli was with the IRS Technical Services Division in Salt Lake City, Utah. A supervisory appeals officer forwarded five trust fund cases to Gabrielli for processing. She was the only employee in her unit that processed this particular type of case and she was required to complete her work within 30 days. Each of the 5 cases included a form signed by the supervisory appeals officer and marked in handwriting with the date "11/4/05." Gabrielli therefore should have signed off on the 5 cases by December 4th. However, she sent these 5 cases forward on December 6 or 9. (Opinion pp. 1-2)

The 30-day requirement is critical to IRS being able to collect appropriate penalties from taxpayers. Gabrielli’s assessments of the 5 cases were 2 to 5 days late based on the dates that were hand written on the forms accompanying the cases. (p. 2)

But, maybe all was not lost. When the 5 cases arrived at the next step, the hand-dated forms reflected that Gabrielli had timely processed them because the "11/04/05" handwritten on each form had been altered to read "11/14/05." (p. 3)

Apparently a discrepancy like this does not easily get by the IRS. An investigation uncovered that Gabrielli had been absent from work for several days and concluded that she had altered the dates on the documents to conceal a mistake. The agency fired Gabrielli, citing a law that requires termination of any IRS employee for "falsifying or destroying documents to conceal mistakes made by an employee with respect to a matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative." (p. 3)

At her appeal hearing before the Merit Systems Protection Board, Gabrielli argued that the alteration in the dates was done before she got the cases. Unfortunately for her, the agency computer system showed that Gabrielli had accessed the taxpayer information for the 5 case files about an hour after the cases were faxed to her unit. The Administrative Judge therefore did not find Gabrielli’s story believable and sustained her removal. (p. 4)

Gabrielli next took her case to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has now declined to overturn her firing. The court finds that the evidence supports the agency’s charges, concluding that the "evidence was sufficient to prove that Ms. Gabrielli acted with …intent." (p. 6)

It’s never a good idea to alter an official agency record, especially with computer systems that track the progress of files being processed through the agency.

© 2017 Susan McGuire Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Susan McGuire Smith.


About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.