On the surface, the language of 26 USC § 7212 describes fairly specific conduct when it includes “whoever corruptly or by force or threats of force . . . endeavors to intimidate or impede any officer or employee of the United . . . or by force or threats of force . . . obstructs or impedes, or endeavors to obstruct or impede, the due administration of this title” as violators of the statute. But the word “corruptly” has been interpreted as an omnibus clause that encompasses any effort to interfere with the Internal Revenue Service.
In addition to being used to prosecute those that harass, intimidate, threaten IRS employees, the law has been used to prosecute nearly any effort to avoid paying taxes. The statute has been used to prosecute those who have used fake charity schemes, those that have laundered money to conceal illegal income and assisting another in filing a false W-4. All of this conduct can be prosecuted under other statutes in the Internal Revenue Code, but the law against obstructing the IRS will sometimes be used to present an easier case or to increase penalties.
This law also provides a key difference from another broad statute the IRS uses to individuals, 26 USC § 7201 which criminalizes any attempt to evade or defeat the income tax. While broad, the law is limited to efforts to actually avoid paying income taxes. Meanwhile, § 7212 can cover any attempt to interfere with IRS business whether or not it is actually involved in a tax evasion scheme.
The statute previously was limited to covering threats and harassment of IRS agents, but Congress broadened the law to include any corrupt effort to interfere with the IRS. This allows the statute to be used to prosecute a wide range of conduct –even conduct that would otherwise be legal—that interferes with the IRS. Nevertheless, not every effort to interfere with the IRS is illegal. Hiring a qualified defense attorney to zealously represent your case is always legal, and is also the smart thing to do when faced with an IRS investigation.