Businesswoman Tastes Terror of IRS Computer Run Amok


In the mood for an IRS-as-boogeyman story?

It’s about Julie McKeehan, co-owner of Calliope Enterprises in Vista, a computer software firm.

Through her bank, McKeehan contracted for payroll services, cutting checks, paying withholding, etc.

Everything was ducky until McKeehan got a letter from the Internal Revenue Service that not enough Social Security tax had been paid for her employees.


She contacted the payroll firm hired by her bank.

The firm quickly paid the Social Security tax, with McKeehan’s money, of course. But it balked at paying $130.50 in penalties and interest.

Annoyed at its failure to collect $130.50, the IRS unleashed a threatening letter to McKeehan. The letter is designed to make your hair fall out in clumps.

The letter said the IRS “must now consider filing a notice of federal tax lien and seizing your property, wages or other assets to satisfy your unpaid tax.”

Said McKeehan: “It got my attention very nicely.”

So nicely that McKeehan fought through the IRS bureaucracy to a case worker and got an “abatement,” that is, an exemption from penalties and interest.

She says she was told that abatements are common in cases involving only puny amounts of money.

McKeehan now wonders: If abatements are common, why does the IRS send out such ballistic letters?


IRS spokeswoman Judith Golden told me that McKeehan really shouldn’t take the letter personally.

When a case is opened, the IRS computer automatically sends out four escalating letters, even before the case is assigned to an IRS employee.

And it doesn’t matter to the computer how much money is at stake: you get the same toughly worded letters, whether it’s a few bucks or a few million.

McKeehan actually had it easy.

It’s not uncommon for a taxpayer to be dealing with an IRS employee to resolve a case and still receive pay-up-or-else letters from the computer.

Once unleashed, the IRS computer is nearly impervious to human intervention. A pilot project in the IRS district office in Fresno is trying to fix this.

“I love it when technology runs amok,” said McKeehan, not altogether sincerely.

The Sin of Omission

A parable of communication.

When Jeff Bird of Golden Hill reported two of his children missing, San Diego police mounted a full search: helicopter, beating the bushes, door-to-door, etc.


Bird said he had left the children only briefly while taking four other children to his wife’s grandparents.

Bird has been the solo parent for a while, since his wife, Patricia Adargas, was jailed on a variety of charges.

Detective Jeff Johnson continued the missing-kids case for several days, but nobody seemed to know anything, not neighbors or relatives.

After a week of futility, Johnson let out word that holding back on information could be a crime.

Suddenly came word that, maybe, the children are with the mother’s godmother in Tijuana. And maybe the mother’s family doesn’t get along so well with the father.

With Mexican police, Johnson retrieved 11-year-old Maria and 11-month-old Julian.

Johnson’s conclusion: You can get a lot of information with a kind word. Sometimes a kind word and a subtle threat works even better.


A Grabbing TV Moment

The city electric.

* Bicarb at 11.

The scanner crackles with the message: Sheriff’s deputy “down” at the Central Jail in San Diego.

TV news crews rush to the scene, thinking riot.

Paramedics find the deputy on the floor, grabbing his midsection in great pain. Off to the hospital.

Diagnosis: Acute gas attack, possibly from jail food.

* An El Cajon-based group called Concerns Citizens of America picketed the San Diego Police Department headquarters this week to protest the hiring of gays.

The group’s slogan: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

* Slice of progress. Or: homeless on the range.

For several years a bit of publicly owned land behind a shopping center in Encinitas was home to homeless Latino immigrants, mostly from Guatemala.

Then the city hired guards to chase them away.

Now there’s a proposal to build a golf driving range on the site.

* San Diego bumper sticker: “For Sale: Ex-wife. Just take over payments.”