IRS law enforcement wing’s changing of the guard

The IRS recently installed a new chief of its Criminal Investigation branch. He is a 29-year IRS veteran.

The IRS recently installed a new chief of its Criminal Investigation branch. He is a 29-year IRS veteran. The agency’s law enforcement wing is responsible for enforcing tax laws and aiding in federal financial crime investigations. For what his plans are, Federal News Network’s Eric White checked in with Guy Ficco on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview Transcript: 

Guy Ficco: I’ve been with the agency since July of 1995. I started right out of school. Started as a what we call like student co-op or potentially a paid intern. I started in the New York Field Office, was there for 14 years. And then from there, I had different management responsibilities from bench positions, all supervisory and front line supervisors, Special Agent, Assistant Special Agent charge, having a special agent charge in our Philadelphia field office. I ran our national undercover program for a year. I’ve had nine or 10 months as a deputy director in our CIA strategy section, which essentially is the section that manages the administrative side of people. So it’s hiring and finance and training and stuff like that. That was the executive director of our operations policy and support section, which is the executive who oversees our asset forfeiture program, our undercover program or narcotics national security program, and then also that became the global operations, which brought any international components to that as well. And I was the executive over that before becoming deputy chief in 2022. And about two years later, here I am as the chief of the agency.

Eric White: Yeah. So if you could just lay out kind of for us what the IRS’s law enforcement wing looks like, what was it about it? Wasn’t the law enforcement part that always interested you? Or is there a another aspect to it?

Guy Ficco: So I had an accounting degree in college and I very much enjoyed I’ll use the word being like an analytical geek. I mean I enjoyed getting into the numbers. I enjoyed in later years playing fantasy sports and looking at stuff like that. So putting together financial forensic financial puzzles was always something very interesting to me. My older sister was a revenue officer with the IRS. So through her, I got to see some of the great work. And then New York Field Office at that point actually was Manhattan district that I was hired into, at a home. Litany of fantastic results, seeing them work with other federal agencies. I think in much like a lot of aspiring law enforcement or want to be law enforcement agents in this country, the FBI has special place in my heart, but seeing them and then seeing IRS as really matching up to my skill sets became something that really seemed like a great match. And 49 years later, we’re still learning more and more about this job and what the capabilities and the evolution. I will say that when I was hired in 1995, we had 3,500 special agents around the country. We had about 4,900 employees in criminal investigation. We’ve hired in the last couple of years, and we’ve been able to move up our ranks a little bit, but we’re still about 2,250 special agents, about 3,350-3,400 overall employees. So we’re about 60% of our ranks that we were in 1995. So seeing that and how we’ve had to evolve a little bit and be more selective in some of our case selections the last couple of years. And now with the hiring have been able to do, that we anticipate doing over the next several years, I think that’s going to afford us some opportunities to add value to other multi agency and maybe even more international scope investigations.

Eric White: We’re speaking with Guy Ficco. He is the recently appointed IRS criminal investigation chief. Over those years, you had mentioned some of those evolutions that have been made within the criminal investigation wing of IRS. Where do you all see yourselves as fitting in towards federal prosecutions of financial crimes? Obviously, you mentioned the FBI, they have a role to play. But what do you what role do you all see yourselves playing?

Guy Ficco: Yeah, well, I mentioned the FBI and I should say the other large agencies HSI and DEA and ATF and some of the large IG’s. We all have very important roles to play and we all have statutory authorities that is unique to others. From IRS, we’re the only large federal agency that spends 100% of its time on financial investigations. And we’re the only agency that has statutory authority to investigate and recommend prosecution for federal income tax violations. So from my seat and throughout my 29-year career and as long as I’m here, tax because that unique ability that we have will always be the No. 1 priority for IRS investigation. We have to deliver on that. The only way of voluntary compliance tax system like we have in the United States worse is with deterrence. And criminal deterrence is in my belief, the most effective way to get that message out. But in terms of our overall financial prowess, I think we have unique skill sets that allow us to work very well with other agencies and add that financial expertise. I think that we’ve evolved and I think we’ve continued to actually evolve. But I think we’ve evolved over the life of my career and moved into areas like crypto and taking a leadership role there. And I think if you looked at a lot of the very large prosecutions as well as criminal forfeitures in the crypto space, IRS CI, if not leading, is very much involved with those investigations.

Eric White: Yeah, I wanted to get into that a little bit just because, you know, as a criminal enforcement wing evolves and advances, so to do the criminals who actually commit those crimes. What is it that you have been seeing in the changing landscape? Crypto is obviously a big factor, as you know, anywhere that you can hide money, but what are some of the other trends that you’re seeing on those who are trying to avoid taxes?

Guy Ficco: Well, you know, Eric, I get asked that question that you asked in various forms a lot for several years now. And I think invariably, my answer is it always involves the criminal ingenuity, the ingenuity, and innovation of criminals. And when there are opportunities out there, and you saw it with COVID, you’ve seen it before with some health care and other product, when there’s money out there and there’s programs out there, people who were of the mindset to steal that money or to take advantage of a system aren’t going to do so. And I think that ingenuity probably keeps me up at night more than anything because knowing that my agents and my investigators and the other agencies and their investigators, we’re working on where we are in June of 2024. And we’re all working to try to leverage technology and data and proper investments and public private partnerships, you name it. But criminals, they get to skirt outside that and try things and we see some things certainly crypto, which, you know, 6-7 years ago, I think there was the perception amongst the public and criminals that crypto transactions were secret, clearly the blockchain. The public nature of the blockchain has proven that incorrectly. But now, you’ve moved to other forms. And whether it’s, you know, other crypto coins beyond Bitcoins, now moved into, you know, something like Monero and stuff if we’re talking about non-fungible. So there’s a lot of different areas that are potentially out there and we need to stay on top of concentrating and constant working with our partners that are experts in that space to try to compete and try to actually stay, you know, stay in a position where we can actually properly investigate, recommend prosecution and provide the deterrence.

Eric White: And finishing up here, you had mentioned that you would plan on making a lot more hires in the near future. I was wondering what other strategies you’re going to utilize in order to make sure that you are doing that and keeping up as criminality will never stop and it’ll keep on going?

Guy Ficco: Well one interesting thing in the hiring Eric. To be an IRS special agent, there’s an educational requirement, but there’s an age requirement. You need to be under age 37 and say you can fulfill a 20-year appointment. So 57 as a manager retirement. But there’s an education requirement that up until a few years ago, probably 90-95% of our agents came on through education, which basically is to have a bachelor’s degree and have a minimum of 15 credits in accounting and then additional credits in overall business administration. One strategy that we’ve been working on the last couple of years and that number, where it was five or 10%, a few years ago, about 30% of our new hires the last couple of years have come on through career experience. And that’s areas that we’ve been able to recruit and bring on some really talented people who may not have gone to school for accounting. But I’ve spent time in working at financial institutions working in Fintech, working in crypto organizations, doing other work that has proven to be very adaptable to the type of investigations that we are doing now and we anticipate doing for the next several years. That’s an area that I think we’re going to continue to recruit too. Don’t get me wrong, I love having accountants. I love having that background, the good strong accounting background, you can take that a lot of different directions and it’s fantastic to matchup to this career. But I think that the career experience is also proven to be very effective. I know that’s an area that we’re going to put an emphasis point here in the next several years.

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