Best of TaxLetter: Candid Camera

Irwin Schiff is the author of a book on taxes entitled, "The Biggest Con: How the Government Fleeces You." His other credits include an article, "The Biggest Con," which appeared in the Congressional Record (1976), a Washington Star interview on "Social Security, The World's Biggest Chain Letter," which was reprinted in the Congressional Record (1977), and a 1978 appearance on Tom Snyder's NBC talk show, "The Tomorrow Show."

His attacks on the system were protected by the First Amendment--until he went further and took his own advice literally. For 1974 and 1975 he sent IRS a Form 1040, altered to read "U.S. Individual Income Confession." Neither form contained any income data, but were accompanied by pages and pages of tax protest statements. Schiff was sentenced to six months' prison, six months' probation, and a $10,000 fine.

Now, NBC had invited an IRS Public Affairs official to appear on the show with Schiff. IRS declined, but videotaped the broadcast. This tape was introduced as evidence over Schiff's objections.

There had never been a case in which a television talk show involving a defendant had been allowed as evidence in a criminal case. And there was ample evidence of intent, without the tape, to support a jury conviction. The tape showed Snyder telling Schiff, "You're going to wind up in Leavenworth one day." The Appeals Court, ruling that statement (and others on the tape) unfairly prejudiced the jury, reversed the conviction. (February 1980)


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Created: March 21, 1996; Last updated: January 26, 2004
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