BY GENE JOHNSON
SEATTLE (AP) — A former IRS agent in Seattle is set to face trial this week on accusations that he solicited and received a $20,000 bribe from a medical marijuana dispensary.
Federal prosecutors say that after Paul G. Hurley audited Have A Heart Compassion Care in Seattle last year, he told its owner, Ryan Kunkel, that he owed $290,000 on his 2013 and 2014 taxes. But, they say, Hurley told Kunkel it could have been a lot worse: Hurley had saved him $1 million.
As Kunkel described it, the IRS agent rubbed his fingers together and suggested that in return for the leniency, Kunkel should pay off his student loan debt over time, court documents allege. Kunkel said that sounded like a bad idea, but fearing his audit would be held up, he agreed to pay Hurley $20,000 cash.
He said he changed his mind after consulting with his security guard, who told him to talk to a lawyer and law enforcement. Kunkel then reported Hurley's actions to the U.S. Attorney's Office and agreed to participate in a sting operation, assistant U.S. attorneys Justin Arnold and Francis Franze-Nakamura wrote in their trial brief.
FBI agents observed and recorded two meetings last September at a Starbucks, where Kunkel handed over the cash in manila envelopes which Hurley stuffed in his backpack, the prosecutors said.
Hurley, a six-year IRS employee, was arrested after getting out of Kunkel's car after the second meeting. Three days later, he resigned.
"My recent actions have no place in the Federal Service and there is no way I could possibly write an apology to express the dissatisfaction and disgust I have within myself," he wrote to his boss. "I have let everyone down in the Seattle office and all across the United States and have brought a cloud of shame to the Internal Revenue Service."
Hurley's attorneys, John Henry Browne and Michael Lee, say their client denies soliciting a bribe. Instead, they say, Kunkel offered him a job to perform accounting services, and the $20,000 payment had no impact on Hurley's official duties. His lawyers also argue that the government induced Hurley into accepting the money.
"In the present case, the alleged bribe was not solicited or accepted until after Mr. Hurley had completed his final audit," they wrote in a trial brief. "Thus, the Government cannot meet its burden of proof that Mr. Hurley received the alleged bribe in 'return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.'"
The prosecutors reject that argument, saying Hurley requested the money – and Kunkel agreed to pay it – last Sept. 11. Hurley didn't submit the final audit paperwork until Sept. 15, they say, and he received the money in meetings on Sept. 16 and 21.
"There is nothing in the bribery statute that requires a bribery payment be made before the official act is taken," they wrote. "To the contrary, courts have routinely found that statute permits a conviction for bribery where the payment of the bribe is made after the official act is undertaken."
Jury selection in the case was scheduled to begin Monday before U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour. The bribery charges carry up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
(Photo Courtesy of econlife.com)