Former IRS clerk pleads guilty to giving friend confidential information 'Browsing' prosecution is first in state in a decade

December 03, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's editions contained incorrect information about how former Internal Revenue Service clerk Janeen McClean left her job last year. McClean, who pleaded guilty to a federal charge of disclosing confidential information, resigned from the IRS, according to IRS officials.

The Sun regrets the error.

A former Internal Revenue Service clerk pleaded guilty yesterday to browsing through confidential tax information on IRS computers and disclosing it to a friend who was curious about the salaries of co-workers.

The case represents the first "browsing" prosecution in Maryland in more than a decade, said IRS officials, who have recently come under increasing pressure to keep their employees from snooping into people's tax records.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Janeen McClean, 35, an eight-year IRS veteran who worked in the Baltimore office, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to a misdemeanor count of disclosing confidential information. She faces a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine; sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22.

McClean was employed as a reports assistant, a clerical position in which she assisted IRS examiners, when she accessed the information on April 10, 1996, IRS agents said.

She looked up the tax records "to provide a friend with information about how much her friend's co-workers were making as salaries in connection with a dispute over salaries at her friend's place of employment," said a statement of facts written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans.

Prosecutors and IRS agents refused to identify the place of employment or whose records were accessed.

Domenic J. LaPonzina, a spokesman for IRS regional headquarters in Baltimore, said McClean was fired July 5, 1996, after the browsing was detected by an internal investigations division.

McClean had access to classified data as part of her job routine, LaPonzina said. Typically, law enforcement agencies can "flag" computerized records that have been accessed, so that a review of the record will reveal who accessed the file and when.

Employees at the IRS are only allowed to access files that involve tax cases they have permission to work on, LaPonzina said. In McClean's case, the access was unauthorized, court papers said.

The issue of inappropriate browsing by tax employees has attracted the attention of the House and Senate, which voted unanimously this year to make browsing a felony.

Previously, the law only allowed criminal penalties for disclosing the information, and the charge was a misdemeanor.

McClean, whose crime was committed before the new law took effect, was prosecuted under the previous misdemeanor law.

Sen. John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat, introduced the tougher browsing legislation in April after a General Accounting Office report revealed that 1,515 browsing cases were uncovered at the IRS in 1994 and 1995. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

Among those who have had their files inappropriately accessed by IRS employees are Elizabeth Taylor, Dolly Parton and President Clinton.

A Tennessee employee was accused of spying through Elvis Presley's tax records long after he died.

According to LaPonzina, 39 IRS employees across the country were either fired, resigned or retired amid allegations of browsing in the first 3 1/2 months of 1997. Last year, 93 people left the IRS after suspected browsing, he said.

The federal tax agency has 112,000 employees nationwide, and each year those employees access IRS data about 1.5 billion times, LaPonzina said.

"The numbers of offenses are very low considering the large number of employees we have and the huge number of times we access the data," the spokesman said.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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