BALTIMORE — If you have ever contemplated falsifying your federal return, think again, for Katie O'Dwyer Steadley is an Internal Revenue Service accountant with conviction.
The 31-year-old Lutherville woman and graduate of Western Maryland College is one of some 3,000 special agents nationwide in the Criminal Investigation Division for the IRS.
Working out of the district office in Baltimore, this slender woman with a disarmingly low-key demeanor and ready laugh smokes out sophisticated tax schemers, tracing their money trails and skillfully securing the evidence against them.
"No one would lie to Katie," said a colleague, characterizing Steadley's strength.
To date, her targeted tax evaders all have voluntarily pleaded guilty, relinquishingtheir rights to a court trial when confronted by her unyielding proof.
While disclosure laws restrain Steadley from discussing individual cases, she did note that her unit in February 1990 raided Baltimore's largest heroin distribution organization in an investigation that included more than 200 officers.
Search warrants were executed on 35 locations, numerous high-level drug dealers were arrested and more than $1.3 million was seized.
Researching and uncovering refundschemes, conducting surveillances, interviewing sometimes hostile swindlers and participating in arrests make the job more interesting for her.
"The work is challenging," Steadly noted. "Each case is different, so it's never boring. You meet all sorts of people from corporate heads to people off the street."
A sociology major with a special interest in criminal justice, Steadley interned as a juvenile probation officer with the Juvenile Services Administration in Westminster while attending WMC.
She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1982. Herhusband, Hunter Steadley, a salesman for a Baltimore construction firm, is a 1981 WMC community planning graduate.
"She was one of ourbest," noted Glen Ashburn, a WMC professor and Steadley's adviser.
Steadley's first job after college was in banking. It lasted a yearbefore she realized that type of work wasn't for her.
She then enrolled in night school at nearby Towson State University in BaltimoreCounty to earn a second degree in accounting. It was there that one of the professors shared with her a brochure outlining the cooperative work-study program sponsored by CID.
"The federal government wasn't hiring -- a freeze was on -- and I saw this as a way to get my foot in the door," she recalled. "CID is a very small division and it'shard to get in. This was a way to check it out to see if I liked it,and if they liked me and if it would work out or not."
Another reason for entering CID was that she was not yet 25 -- at that time therequirement to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which she also had considered.
She joined CID in June 1983, working part time and continuing her studies in alternate semesters.
As a co-opstudent, Steadley helped the agents investigating tax fraud by researching land records, listening to informants who phone the IRS and following up on their leads.
Her appointment to the U.S. Department of the Treasury became official upon earning her accounting degree in1985 (she became a licensed certified public accountant in 1987).
At that time, Steadley entered the 14-week training program, including eight weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., where she participated in mock raids and was schooled in theuse of firearms, search-and-seizure techniques and self-defense.
Extending her arm, she points to where bruises resulted from her first handling of firearms ("the shotgun," she said) and she remembers her knees knocking while out on her first raid.
"You're always nervous then," she said. "But whenever you go into a situation like that, you're on the alert."
She now handles several special assignments,including work on the Questionable Refund Detection Team. IRS examiners flag questionable statements for investigation when the "W-2 is handwritten or the amounts look funny," she said.
During the 1989 filing season, these detection teams stopped more than $24 million in bogus refunds from government issuance, she said.
Agents conduct investigations of suspected refund schemes, using surveillance, interviews and processing of returns and related documents through CID's Forensic Laboratory in Chicago.
The lab also does handwriting and fingerprint analysis.
"Some rich people are very greedy," Steadley noted, confessing to feeling self-righteous about her profession, especially when "I see they're paying less taxes than me. Everyone needs to do their share."
Reprinted with permission from the Hill, WMC'smagazine.
Ellie Baublitz contributed to this story.