The IRS's internal watchdog has spent more than two years investigating claims that the agency improperly targeted a Tea Party owner of a small Virginia farm whose repeated legal clashes with a local environmental group has made her a cause celebre for property-rights advocates, the farmer told the Washington Examiner.
The Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, is still trying to get to the bottom of allegations that the IRS colluded with a local environmental group to improperly audit Martha Boneta, owner of a 64-acre organic farm in Fauquier County, Boneta said Wednesday.
A TIGTA special agent first contacted Boneta in 2013 amid the developing national scandal involving allegations that the IRS was targeting conservative groups and individuals for special scrutiny.
Boneta said she had two extensive meetings with the agent for roughly three hours each in 2013. Just last month, she said the same agent told her that the case was still open.
"It was a ray of hope," she said. "He said your case is still open and if we hadn't found anything, it would have been closed … it will stay open until action is taken."
But while that investigation is ongoing, the IRS came back this year with another audit for the farm for 2012, in addition to the first audit covering 2010 and 2011, she said.
According to Boneta, the IRS held the first audit open for two years seeking "reams and reams" of information that forced her to spend thousands of dollars on copying alone, as well as on private attorney and accounting fees. The IRS eventually fined her $20,000 for an accounting error she blames on the private accountant she hired.
During that audit, she said, the IRS auditor was asking her questions that were "uniquely related" to her litigation with Fauquier County and the Piedmont Environmental Council, or PEC.
"If not collusion, how could this be possible?" she asks.
The second audit, for the tax year 2012, she said was relatively painless in comparison and found no problems with her return. Still, she wonders if the audits will ever stop.
"Am I going to be audited every year for the rest of my life?" she asked.
The TIGTA press office did not return a Examiner request seeking comment about the case, but previously told the Examiner that it "could not provide any information at this time."
Boneta also recently met with GOP staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has spent two years investigating the IRS treatment of conservative groups.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the oversight panel, on Monday called on President Obama to remove IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for obstructing congressional probes by failing to comply with subpoenas and preserve and produce 24,000 emails relevant to the investigation.
During a Wednesday Senate committee hearing following up on the IRS scandal two years later, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said it's time that the multiple federal investigations get to the bottom of what happened.
"In Watergate, we just didn't say that we're not going to see it happen again," he said. "They said, 'who did what, when?'"
Sessions also said he's "not happy" that the FBI has not interviewed victims in his state who have accused the IRS of delaying their application for tax-exempt status. Sessions also asked Koskinen if the FBI has told the IRS whether its investigations have concluded.
Koskinen said the FBI has not told them "either way."
Boneta's allegations against the IRS stem from her long and tangled legal battle with the PEC over the group's access to her farm, which she bought in 2006.
The PEC had wanted regular access to her land to monitor adherence to a conservation easement intended to limit commercial activities and safeguard the historic and scenic value of the land.
But Boneta, who considers herself a Tea Party Republican and has held at least one fundraiser on the farm for a Tea Party U.S. Senate hopeful, said the access quickly became far too intrusive. She also accuses the environmental group of enlisting Fauquier County officials to harass her with a series of fines in recent years.
The county, for instance, has levied thousands of dollars in fines against her for selling fruits and vegetables on the property during the weekend without a proper license, even though she holds a county-approved license for a retail farm shop and for holding unlicensed events. Those events included a birthday party for her best friend's eight-year-old child and a pumpkin carving, without permits and a site plans.
The two sides have been battling over a stream of accusations and land-rights claims in court over the last few years.
But it was Boneta's allegations about the IRS audit that likely attracted the TIGTA's attention and scrutiny.
One of the members of PEC's board of directors is Margaret "Peggy" Richardson, a Clinton-era IRS commissioner. Richardson has dismissed the idea that she or the PEC group has anything to do with the audit, but did not respond to questions from the Examiner submitted to PEC and forwarded to her.
Boneta also said she learned of the IRS's plans to audit her tax returns for 2010 and 2011 during a meeting between one of her friends and supporters and Peter Schwartz, a member of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors and a former member of the PEC board of directors, at his home on July 21, 2012.
Boneta says she didn't receive an IRS letter informing her of the audit until a few days later.
In an emailed response to the Examiner's questions back in 2013, Schwartz said he has never had any contact with the IRS or the Treasury Department with respect to Boneta or her farm and has "no knowledge of the status of the matter."
"Other than that, I have no further comment on your inquiry," he said, ignoring specific questions about whether he knew about the audit before Boneta did and the July 21 meeting with Boneta's lawyer.