Congressman’s son sues IRS over ‘heavy-handed’ tactics, improper disclosure of investigation to media
The son and namesake of a veteran congressman from Philadelphia is suing the Internal Revenue Service over what he maintains were heavy-handed tactics and improper disclosures to the media concerning a possible tax investigation. Chaka Fattah, Jr., whose father, Chaka Fattah, is in his 10th term representing Pennsylvania’s 2nd House District, filed suit last week at U.S. District Court in Philadelphia over a Feb. 29, 2012, raid at his apartment home in the Ritz-Carlton in Center City, and the subsequent fallout from that early morning visitation. On that day, according to the younger Fattah’s civil action, two IRS special agents knocked on his door at about 6:20 in the morning with questions about allegedly unpaid tax liabilities from the years 2005 through 2010. At the conclusion of the interview, the agents handed Fattah a subpoena seeking documents and records to assist the agency with its investigation. One of the agents then received a phone call, and minutes later armed FBI agents showed up at the home saying they were there to execute a search warrant, according to Fattah, 31, who spoke at length recently with the Pennsylvania Record. Fattah, who filed his complaint pro se, or without the aid of an attorney, takes particular issue with the fact that the government apparently tipped off the media to the agents’ visit, otherwise newspaper photographers wouldn’t have been camped out at his then-home at that hour of the day. Fattah, who operates a marketing and management consulting firm called 259 Strategies LLC, claims that the negative media attention since the incident has caused him to lose out on potentially lucrative work contracts. He maintains his reputation has been seriously damaged and that his finances have taken a tremendous hit. “I think this is a matter of significant public concern,” Fattah told the Pennsylvania Record. “They have a responsibility to pursue truth and justice, not to chase headlines by leaking information [to the media], which I’m sure they would argue is some kind of legitimate law enforcement action.” One of the main claims in his lawsuit is that the IRS violated its own policies when it sent the agents to pay a house visit at 6:20 a.m. “They are violating their own procedures,” Fattah said. The Fair Tax Collection Practices, Fattah notes in his suit, says that agents should not communicate with a taxpayer prior to 8 a.m. local time. “Plaintiff did not give prior consent to the Secretary [of revenue] and Defendants did not have express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction,” the complaint reads. In a recent opinion piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fattah noted that the government agents wouldn’t allow him to phone his attorneys because his cellphone, which had the contact information for the lawyers, was one of the items being seized that day. In the submitted piece, Fattah noted that he was finally able to call his sister, who is an attorney, using the landline in the home. Fattah further alleges that the government officials made no attempt to contact his attorneys at the Philadelphia firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, whom he had on retainer. “Plaintiff alleges that the IRS employees recklessly, intentionally, or negligently disregarded certain provisions of Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”) in connection with Federal tax collection activities against Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states. In his complaint, Fattah also singles out a story about the incident published on the website Philly.com, which came out mere hours after the agents visited his home, a residence he shared with his then-girlfriend. Fattah maintains that he never spoke to reporters about the visit, and that the only way media representatives could have been at the building was if they were tipped off by the government. In the lawsuit, Fattah points to a Washington Times article in which an IRS spokeswoman confirms that criminal investigators were at the residence in Philadelphia that day on “official business.” “The media attention from the initial articles caused additional negative media articles, which resulted in a loss of reputation,” the complaint reads. Fattah noted that previously he was the subject of positive news articles about his “business acumen and success as an entrepreneur.” After the Feb. 29 visit by the government, however, Fattah says he stopped receiving payments from a contract valued at $12,000 per month. He said he was also unable to finish several college courses in which he was enrolled at the time because of financial issues and stress. In his phone interview, Fattah said that, “the whole idea of innocent until proven guilty in this legal system is very important. “My basic feel of this is they took a heavy handed approach and broke a lot of rules,” he said. Fattah said that just because he’s the son of a congressman doesn’t mean he should have to be defending himself in public. “I never ran for office,” he said. He also doesn’t understand why he was never given the opportunity to turn over documents to the government, instead of having things like his computer and phone seized on the day of the visit, which was the first time he ever had any contact with the IRS about the alleged tax problems. Fattah said he still doesn’t know exactly who tipped off the media to the agents’ visit, but he expects that would come out during discovery. Fattah is seeking $928,001 in total damages for emotional distress, loss of reputation, direct economic damages and inconvenience. The federal case number is 2:14-cv-01092-TJS.