Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Consumer Reports

The mother of all IRS tax rip-offs | As scams go, this one's a whopper. More than 100,000 Americans have filed claims with the Internal Revenue Service for $2.7 billion in nonexistent tax credits for slave reparations in the last two years alone. What's even more amazing, the IRS has mailed checks totaling more than $30 million to those making the false claims. And what's being done about it? Not nearly enough.

The scandal came to light last week when an IRS official testified before the Senate. The inspector general for tax administration, David C. Williams, told a Senate committee that the IRS has now developed a computer program that will catch future miscreants and has begun collection against those who got checks from the government. One individual collected a half million dollars from the government.

The government is also suing some individuals who prepared false claims for others for a fee. And the IRS has announced that starting this week, anyone who files such a claim and does not withdraw it may be fined $500.

According to the Washington Post, which broke the story over the weekend, several current and former IRS employees tried the scam themselves. While an unnamed government official told the Post that one IRS employee is under investigation for helping process the claims, most of the other insiders were low-level employees working in processing centers. But what about the tens of thousands of others who applied for these bogus reparations?

Most of the news stories have treated those who put in the false claims as victims, too. But I have my doubts. Sure, there may have been some people, especially the elderly or poorly educated, who believed the flyers and other promotional material telling them they were entitled to compensation as descendants of slaves. Most of the claims were for $43,209 per individual, what a 1993 article in Essence magazine suggested was the modern equivalent of "forty acres and a mule," proposed after the Civil War -- but never adopted -- as compensation to freed slaves.

But I'm betting that many who filed claims knew exactly what they were doing. Is it merely a coincidence that nearly all the claims have been filed in the two years since reparations have become the new "civil rights" demand? Many of the claimants probably felt entitled to scam Uncle Sam by virtue of their "victim" status.

The rhetoric of the reparations movement is all about "the debt" owed by the United States to the descendants of slaves. So why not try to collect? Why wait for Johnnie Cochran and the other high-profile African American lawyers suing major corporations for slave reparations? Why wait until Congressman John Conyers can convince his Congressional colleagues to pass legislation to compensate blacks for their suffering? Just fill in the line on your form 1040, and count on the IRS to be too big and overburdened to notice.

The problem, of course, is that this is no different than stealing -- in this case from fellow Americans, including other African Americans. This is no "victimless" crime. When individuals or corporations cheat on their taxes, it costs the rest of us who pay our fair share.

The reparations tax cheaters aren't the first politically motivated scam artists or thieves. Back in the '60s and '70s, groups on the left robbed banks, armored cars and other cash-rich targets, and justified their actions by claiming to be modern-day Robin Hoods. In the '80s and '90s, some right-wing militias urged followers to withhold their taxes, and some even printed up phony money and checks, arguing the government had no authority to stop them.

But in the end, it's greed that motivates these activities, and no amount of righteous rhetoric justifies ripping off your fellow Americans.

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