[Readings] The IRS Walk of Fame | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

The IRS Walk of Fame

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From the transcript of United States of America v. Robert M. Patterson, a trial held in April 1996 at the U.S. District Court in Memphis. Patterson, who worked for the Internal Revenue Service from 1985 until 1996, was charged with illegally accessing and reading tax records. Patterson told investigators that the regular duties of his job, which involved entering taxpayer names and other information into a computer, “began to get old” and that accessing the accounts “kept me sane.” Patterson was questioned by his attorney, Beth Brooks; he was later acquitted of the charges.

beth brooks: Beginning in April of 1992, shortly after you moved to the night shift, did you begin to try to train yourself on the computer?

robert m. patterson Yes, ma’am. I would punch in celebrity names or names I saw in the newspaper, names I saw on TV, names that just came into my head. I really wasn’t going in there with any malicious intent, I was just trying to teach myself. And you know, when something came up on the screen, I would look at it, see what happened, and then I would go on to the next name. Once I had Elvis Presley—it was for an estate or a trust or something. It surprised me, because he has been dead-how many, almost eighteen, nineteen years. I thought, it must be somebody with that same name. Then I got it in my mind: Wouldn’t it be funny if there were people with those names, and I just punched in Karen Carpenter to see if there were really people named Karen Carpenter, and I got a whole page of them. You know, I just thought that was odd.

brooks: All right. Do you recall whether you had a legitimate purpose that you can remember for accessing other files? For example, Wynonna Judd. Do you remember?

patterson: No.

brooks: Naomi Judd?

patterson: No. I had country singers often.

brooks: Okay. But you can’t say whether you did or did not have a legitimate purpose?
patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: Garth Brooks?

patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: Okay. Traci Lords?

patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: Bryan Adams? Does that ring a bell?

patterson: I can’t say about that. I don’t remember.

brooks: Do you remember anything about Hal Holbrook?

patterson: No, ma’am.

brooks: Do you remember anything about Elizabeth Taylor?

patterson: No, ma’am.

brooks: Michael—

patterson: Now, Elizabeth Taylor, that would be like another Karen Carpenter situation.

brooks: What about Michael Jordan?

patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: Dixie Carter?

patterson: No, ma’am.

brooks: What about David Duke?

patterson: David Duke came up during the political campaign year of ’92.

brooks: SO you think that was a legitimate purpose on campaign checking?

patterson: Yes, ma’am.

brooks: Okay. Tom Cruise?

patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: John Grisham?

patterson: No, ma’am.

brooks: Sissy Spacek?

patterson: (Shaking head negatively)

brooks: Lawrence Welk?

patterson: No, ma’am.

brooks: Lucille Ball?

patterson: No.

brooks: Desi Arnaz?

patterson: Well, see, Lucy—these movie stars like Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, they’re not going to show up, because they’re not even in our district. I was just looking to see if anybody else had those names.

brooks: Clark Gable?

patterson: He has been dead, you know.

brooks: Okay. Lisa Presley?

patterson: You see, those two go together—Lisa and Elvis Presley. If you get into estates, I knew that she has control of his estate now, so I would have to check her out too.