WASHINGTON – Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hochman is taking a decidedly different approach this year to warning taxpayers against looking for a way to avoid their legal obligation to pay their tax debts.
Hochman, a former Beverly Hills tax attorney, is spearheading what the Department of Justice calls its new "Tax Defier Initiative," known to the legions of tax lawyers as "TaxDef."
Simply explained, the initiative intends to go after individuals and organizations who have made a business for themselves by teaching people how to get around tax laws.
The problem with these players and their schemes, Hochman said in a news conference Tuesday, is that the means in which they encourage people to skip their tax obligations are routinely specious and illegal.
"These are garden-variety hucksters and snake oil salesmen," Hochman said.
For example, many "tax defiers" encourage customers, who pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of being misguided, to feel secure in their claims that the 16th Amendment's call for tax obligations is "optional" or "voluntary," Hochman said.
They also employ a variety of somewhat bizarre fabrications, telling customers that all they need to do to get out of their tax obligations is renounce their citizenship or their Social Security numbers.
The TaxDef initiative aims to coordinate the investigative and prosecutorial efforts of the Justice Department and its 93 U.S. Attorney offices with the Internal Revenue Service.
By definition, a "tax defier" is not someone who is considered a legitimate "tax protestor," though an individual can be one and the same if the defier skips out on paying. It is also not someone who has a legitimate legal dispute with the IRS, which can be resolved through court action or arbitration.
Rather, a tax defier is someone who "rejects the fundamental basis of the tax system, despite courts having held up its validity," Hochman said. These people take "specific and concrete action" to avoid paying their debts.
The new initiative will "enjoin tax defier" activity; "alert and educate the public" to such activities; and monitor the Internet closely since that is where most organizations sell their tax defiance "how-tos" and advertise their products.
By law, the IRS is barred from tabulating statistical data on tax protestors, non-payers and the like, so the newly announced initiative aims to get a handle on just how big the problem is.
Estimates, however, are that a very large portion of the estimated annual $345 billion shortfall in tax revenue is due to willful defiers.
As an example, the department rolled out three newly filed injunctions as part of a nationwide crackdown on schemes aimed at defying payment.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb contributed to this report.