Stealing from all of us

Theft from the government is hardly a victimless crime

People who bilk the government are flush with excuses to explain their actions.

Nobody is going to miss anything.

It’s not like anybody got hurt.

Who cares? It’s free money, right?

Wrong. Sadly, all those rationalizations help comprise the attitude that too many Americans have when it comes to looting the public sector. Perhaps it’s an indication of how civically stunted society has become – that people who steal from the “government” don’t realize they steal from us all. Where do they think government comes from?

How profoundly disappointing if allegations are true that two moving companies overbilled the Department of Defense on services to relocate soldiers, some of whom were deployed from Fort Gordon.

The companies, Covan World-Wide Moving Inc. and Coleman American Moving Services Inc., deny the allegations brought forth in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia. The companies and their affiliates have billed the government $723 million for moving costs since 2009.

If any overcharges are deemed fraudulent, as opposed to a mistake or negligence, justice hopefully would be swift and severe, such as the punishments levied last week against members of a local fraud ring that used their jobs at Georgia Regents Medical Center and East Central Regional Hospital to steal patient identities and file more than $346,000 in bogus income tax returns during a four-year period.

All participants in the 12-member conspiracy, ranging in age from 22 to 48, have pleaded guilty to federal charges. As of this week, eight have received prison terms and one lesser participant received probation; sentencing dates for the remaining three ringleaders are pending.

U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall also included restitution in some of the sentences, which means participants in the scheme will have to pay back the stolen funds in monthly installments once released from prison. That is only fair.

Another high-profile tax fraud case originating in Augusta, this one involving a tax-preparation business filing false returns to take advantage of tax credits for the poor, ended in prison terms for the 54-year-old company owner and three accomplices last year.

Unlike the more recent tax fraud case, which relied on identity theft, these perpetrators exploited the earned income tax credit, or EITC, which is arguably the most vulnerable to “improper claims” (IRS parlance for “fraud”).

The EITC acts as an anti-poverty program by wiping out the federal income-tax liability for low-income working families and providing cash payments of up to several thousand dollars. A 2013 Treasury Department report estimates the credit costs the government more than $10 billion a year in improper claims.

The department’s inspector general said it has warned the IRS about rampant EITC fraud but that the IRS “acknowledges that further reductions in the EITC improper payment rate will be difficult to achieve,” according to the report.

Really? Hopefully the agency could find a handful out of its 98,000 employees to focus on a fraud-prone credit that sucks $10 billion from the treasury each year. Maybe the bureaucrats who were tasked with harassing tax-exempt political groups with conservative-sounding names could be freed up.

There’s no such thing as “free money” from the government. Defrauding the government simply is stealing from your neighbor using bureaucrats as a conduit. And those who get caught deserve punishment.

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