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Ex-IRS Agent Gets 15-Month Sentence : Courts: Processor of late payments embezzled more than $59,000 from accounts of 25 taxpayers at Laguna Niguel office. Prosecutor lauds sentence as deterrent.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former agent for the Internal Revenue Service in Laguna Niguel was sentenced Monday to 15 months in prison for embezzling more than $59,000 in payments by taxpayers.

Carolyn Henderson, 42, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew to repay the IRS the money she diverted from the accounts of 25 people.

“We believe it’s a serious sentence that should deter future IRS employees from abusing the trust that people have in them,” said Nathan J. Hochman, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

Henderson’s embezzlement stretched from March, 1991, through February, 1992, a period when she was assigned to process late payments at the IRS Laguna Niguel office. After working out payment schedules with the late payers, Hochman said, Henderson would accept their payments by mail or at the customer service counter in Laguna Niguel. But instead of crediting their accounts, he said, she wrote “RO (revenue officer) Henderson” on the checks and deposited them in her personal account at a nearby bank.

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Henderson’s attorney, Kathryn Thickstun Leff, said the “crime wasn’t particularly smart in the way she tried to carry it out. . . . Of course the check’s going to come back to the maker with her name on it. This was not a great mystery. It was just a matter of time before it was discovered.”

Meanwhile, the would-be taxpayers found themselves on the phone with the IRS trying to explain that they had paid their delinquent taxes and being told that no payments had been received.

Eventually, Hochman said, the taxpayers were credited for their waylaid payments--a total of 47 checks--and the IRS took the loss.

Leff said that Henderson was taking psychotropic and anti-depressant medication at the time of her crime, and other medication for orthopedic problems. As a result, Leff said, “she didn’t have her normal complement of self-restraint. I don’t think she realized how serious her offense was at the time she committed it.”

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Henderson was fired from her job for the crime, Hochman said.

Leff said that Henderson, having already served 10 months at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, will be eligible for a supervised release in about three months.

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“She’s a person with a lot of problems who realizes that she has them and at this point would like to start dealing with them,” the lawyer said. “She’s just kind of on ice right now. Her real concern is getting on with her life and getting a job so that she can begin paying back the IRS.” The crime was among several in recent years at the Laguna Niguel IRS office, one of the country’s busiest. In 1991, an electrical engineer pleaded guilty to a violent spree that included a five-round mortar attack on the building.

Last year, a former tax protester was relieved of the obligation to pay more than $150,000 in back taxes after a judge ruled that his tax returns probably had been lost by the IRS. During the trial, a former IRS revenue officer testified that she had seen returns misplaced, shredded and put in the wrong files at the Laguna Niguel regional office.

And just last week, two tax auditors who had worked in the office were indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles. Adam Kutz Jr. of Long Beach was charged with making fraudulent statements and receiving bribes for allegedly doctoring IRS work sheets to reduce tax liabilities. The other, Peter Stein of Hawaii, was charged with conspiracy and receiving bribes for allegedly accepting $5,000 to lower a taxpayer’s 1986 tax liability from $161,000 to $10,000.

Stein no longer works for the IRS. Kutz has worked in the Laguna Niguel office since 1984.


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