Is the IRS targeting whistleblowers?
06:04 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Air marshal-turned-whistle-blower says he was targeted by the IRS

He's been questioned by investigators probing the tax-collection agency

A House committee is seeking more people with stories like his

The IRS defends the "fairness and integrity" of its audits

Washington CNN  — 

The same day a documentary that featured government whistle-blower P. Jeffrey Black premiered, an Internal Revenue Service agent came to Black’s door for an audit.

Coincidence? Black doesn’t think so. Now he’s taken his story to two congressional committees and a Treasury Department watchdog, a sign that the IRS will face new scrutiny after its admission that employees improperly singled out applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups for extra review.

Black retired from the Federal Air Marshal Service in 2010 after taking complaints about his agency to Congress. Six years earlier, he testified to a closed-door hearing into his complaints of ineptitude, favoritism and problems keeping marshals on flights.

The same year he retired, he appeared in “Please Remove Your Shoes,” a documentary critical of the airline security measures travelers endure on every trip. An IRS agent showed up at his door “almost to the hour” that the movie bowed, he said.

“Being a veteran of extensive retaliation in my past, I am not surprised about this,” Black told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” “It is basically the only way they can retaliate against me after I retired.”

Black said his supervisors wrongly suspected he had been leaking reports of cutbacks by the service – something for which another air marshal was later fired. He said his home was placed under surveillance, his cable lines were cut and he was taken off of flight duty to perform menial tasks around his office.

“There I was in a suit and a tie, instead of being on a plane like I should be, painting scuff marks off the wall and washing cars,” he said.

Shifting IRS polls contradict key deposition

The audit led to a yearlong investigation that included the placement of a $24,000 lien against his home. In the end, the IRS found out Black owed them $480 – while the government owed him $8,300. Black paid his $480; the government never paid him, saying the statute of limitations had run out.

After the May disclosure by the IRS that some of its employees had singled out conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status, resulting in lengthy delays in their applications being processed, Black wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the IRS, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He told them he now thinks someone – perhaps the Air Marshal Service, the Department of Homeland Security or elsewhere in the Obama administration – was using the IRS to retaliate against him.

When he raised his suspicions before, “I always received the same reply: ‘The IRS would never do that – that would be just too obvious – you are just paranoid,’ ” he told the Ways and Means Committee. But now, “I do not believe the previous actions taken by the IRS were ‘just a coincidence.’”

And Black may not be alone. The committee is now soliciting details from people who think they were targeted for their political beliefs. And he’s been contacted by investigators for the Treasury Department inspector-general’s office that looked into the tea party complaints, indicating that probe may be heading in a new direction.

GOP tries to keep focus on IRS targeting scandal

“They wanted to know the history of my whistle-blowing, me testifying before Congress,” he said. “They wanted to get a whole history of my employment with the Federal Air Marshal Service. They also wanted to find out the origin of the audits. They were very concerned with who actually pushed the button to start the audit.”

In a statement issued to CNN, the IRS says federal law prohibits it from talking about the cases of specific taxpayers. But it says audits “are based on the information contained on the tax return and the underlying tax law – nothing else.”

“The audit process is handled by career, nonpartisan civil servants, and the IRS has processes in place to safeguard the exam process,” the agency said. “We strive to be vigilant in our efforts to provide the best taxpayer service and enforce the nation’s tax laws with fairness and integrity.”

“While it is too early in this investigation to determine what all of the facts are, some reports received by the committee support claims the IRS was targeting taxpayers for their beliefs,” the committee told CNN in a written statement.

Black may be worried about being seen as paranoid, but at a congressional hearing focusing on the tea party issue, Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady wondered whether the IRS scandal is just beginning.

“Is this still America?” Brady asked. “Is this government so drunk on power that it would turn its full force, its full might, to harass intimidate and threaten an average American who only wants his voice heard?”

CNN’s Elizabeth Nunez and Matt Smith contributed to this report.