The Internal Revenue Service -- the people who expect perfection from you -- are no angels themselves. Between April and September, investigators from the Treasury Department looked into 1,700 cases of alleged bribery, smuggling, embezzlement and theft by Treasury employees and the vast majority of the culprits work for its biggest division, the IRS.
One IRS staffer, angry at an acquaintance who had sued him, retaliated by making his enemy the subject of a tax investigation. The tax man with an ax to grind controlled all aspects of the investigation and had unlimited opportunity to wield the intimidating power of the IRS.
Another IRS employee used inside information to tip off a friend -- a drug trafficker -- that IRS criminal investigators were looking into his financial dealings. Then the employee helped his friend draw up bogus papers to hide his assets so the IRS couldn't seize them.
Congressional sources told our reporter Paul Parkinson that ethical lapses in the IRS are widespread and a "culture of lawlessness" abounds.
Treasury investigators have their hands full keeping track of the 155,900 employees under the Treasury umbrella. Here are some of the cases uncovered in a six-month period:
For five years, a senior U.S. Customs Service official took bribes from Japanese citizens who wanted to enter the United States without having their bags inspected.
Another Customs inspector took a $350 bribe in exchange for not reporting the theft of two huge shipments of coffee valued at $100,000.
A former staff assistant at the Customs Academy bilked $7,200 out of the government by filing false requests for financial assistance in the names of former academy students.
A former agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms helped hide a drug fugitive. In exchange for money, the agent got a deputy sheriff's badge for the man so he could evade Customs while carrying drugs across the border.
Some of the crimes involved violence. Treasury investigators looked into more than 370 cases of assault and murder involving department employees.
While the Treasury Department is examining its own problems, Congress is taking an outside look. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) headed a 30-month investigation into the IRS by the House Government Operations Committee.
"We pulled the covers off a situation that has been intolerable since the 1980s," he said. "This is only the tip of the iceberg . . . . "
A Treasury spokesman told us that, in spite of the large number of investigations of Treasury workers, the department is "not alarmed." Many of the investigations are inconclusive. But inside the department, officials are scrambling to stem the tide. Two task forces have been established to teach managers how to recognize the "early warning signs." The commissioner of Customs has added 66 special agents to the Internal Affairs offices around the nation.
And the IRS, taking the lecture route, has made 17,000 of its employees sit through "integrity awareness" briefings in the past nine months.