IRS Agent Convicted
A former IRS agent was convicted yesterday of accepting a $20,000 bribe from a cannabis dispensary based in Seattle. Paul G. Hurley was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Yesterday’s sentencing is the final chapter in a story that began in the summer of 2015.
That year Hurley was assigned to audit Seattle-based marijuana dispensary Have a Heart Compassion Care, Inc. After he completed his audit he told dispensary owner Ryan Kunkel that the company owed the IRS a little more than $290,000 in taxes.
But then things took an unexpected turn.
Hurley also told Kunkel that he’d saved him and his company millions of dollars during the audit. He then rubbed his fingers together and made it clear that he expected Kunkel to pay him $20,000 for getting his company off the hook.
Kunkel eventually became suspicious. Instead of paying Hurley right away, he first contacted authorities.
Working in cooperation with law enforcement, Kunkel had two more meetings with Hurley. Eventually, Kunkel gave Hurley the $20,000. The entire thing was secretly recorded by the FBI.
Hurley was arrested last September and his trial finally wrapped up yesterday.
Heading into the trial, Hurley’s lawyers argued that he hadn’t actually bribed the dispensary owner. Instead, they said, the $20,000 was payment for an accounting job Kunkel had hired Hurley to perform.
But Kunkel stuck with his story. He said that Hurley basically shook him down.
At one point, Kunkel’s lawyers explained that Hurley demanded the $20,000 four days before he actually submitted Kunkel’s tax paperwork. They argued that Hurley coerced Kunkel into agreeing to the payment.
“The American public entrusts public officials to carry out their duties in an honorable way,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes at the conclusion of the trial.
“Revenue agents, such as this defendant, conduct taxpayer audits, demand records, conduct interviews, and have the power to assess additional federal taxes.”
“When that power is used to line the pockets of those public officials it is a breach of trust of the highest order.”
This case highlights some of the tensions that exist between federal agencies and legal dispensaries. Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, dispensaries that follow state laws can still find themselves in trouble with federal officials.
This tension is most clear in the number of legal dispensaries that have been raided by federal agents. Between 1996 and 2013 the federal government raided 528 legal medical cannabis dispensaries.