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United States v. Lasalle National Bank and Joseph W. Lang

decided: April 11, 1977.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 75-C-3842 - FRANK J. McGARR, Judge.

Pell and Sprecher, Circuit Judges, and William G. East, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Pell

PELL, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from an order of the district court entered on March 9, 1976, denying enforcement of two IRS summonses served upon the LaSalle National Bank and its vice-president, Joseph W. Lang. The issue presented is whether the district court erred in finding that the two summonses were issued in aid of an investigation solely for criminal purposes and were unenforceable for that reason.


Special Agent John F. Olivero was conducting an investigation of the federal tax liabilities of John Gattuso. On August 15, 1975, petitioner Olivero issued the instant summonses, directing the respondent LaSalle National Bank to appear before him on September 2, 1975, to testify and to produce for examination certain books, records, and papers. Respondent Lang appeared in response to the summonses but failed to testify or produce the records demanded.

On November 11, 1975, the United States and Special Agent Olivero petitioned the district court for enforcement of the summonses pursuant to 26 U.S.C. ยงยง 7402(b), 7604(a).*fn1 The petition prayed, inter alia, for an order directing the respondents to show cause why they should not comply with and obey the aforementioned summonses in each and every requirement thereof. The district court issued the order to show cause pursuant to which a hearing was held on December 5, 1975.

At the hearing, Special Agent Olivero reiterated under repeated questioning that he was attempting to determine whether or not there were any criminal violations of the Internal Revenue Code. He also testified that the purpose of his investigation was "to determine the tax liabilities for the years under investigation." In response to a direct question from the court, Olivero stated that he had not made a determination in his own mind as to whether to recommend criminal prosecution. The agent could not recall specifically reading Section 539 of the Handbook for Special Agents of the Intelligence Division, but admitted in response to another question from the court that he had not kept a chronological work sheet in connection with his investigation of the tax liability of John Gattuso. He could not recall whether he had seen any or all of the documents demanded from the respondent by the summonses.

The respondents called Olivero and Gregory J. Perry as witnesses. Respondents had served a subpoena upon Olivero seeking all files concerning or relating to Gattuso but excused the agent after the district court judge indicated that respondents had not yet sustained the burden of raising a substantial question concerning the validity of the summonses. The judge indicated that he would examine the records in camera if the respondents' presentation of their case suggested that the records should be inspected. Thereupon, the respondents called Perry, who testified that he had asked Olivero at a meeting of June 11, 1975, what civil aspect of the investigation Olivero was getting into. When Olivero said "his investigation was strictly related to criminal violations" of the Internal Revenue Code but would not disclose them, the meeting quickly came to a close. Perry testified that he asked Olivero whether there was any Revenue Agent or officer assigned to the case with him and that Olivero said "no, strictly a criminal investigation."

After hearing testimony, the court stated that it had heard nothing in Agent Olivero's testimony to suggest that the thought of a civil investigation ever crossed his mind. The judge indicated that he would undertake the in camera inspection of the materials in the file in view of his understanding that if there was a possibility that information regarding civil tax liability might come up, it was a civil investigation until Olivero closed it. The judge also observed that unless he found something in the in camera inspection that gave more support to the Government's position than did Olivero's testimony, it would be the court's conclusion that Olivero was at all times involved in a criminal investigation, at least in Olivero's mind.

After considering the in camera material, the testimony, and various memoranda submitted by the parties, the district court denied enforcement of the summonses. In its Memorandum Opinion and Order, the district court recognized that it was not an improper use of an IRS summons to issue it in aid of an investigation if the issuance was prior to a recommendation for criminal prosecution and in good faith, citing Donaldson v. United States, 400 U.S. 517, 27 L. Ed. 2d 580, 91 S. Ct. 534 (1971). The court further recognized that civil and criminal investigations might go forward side by side before a determination of the ultimate focus of the investigation was made. Again, the court recognized that the presence of a Special Agent assigned to the investigation did not automatically make it a criminal investigation. After noting that the Supreme Court in Donaldson, supra, had left no doubt that it regarded as inappropriate the issuance of an IRS summons solely for criminal purposes, the court stated:

It is apparent from the evidence that Special Agent John F. Olivero in his investigative activities had focused upon the possible criminal activities of John Gattuso, and was conducting his investigation solely for the purpose of unearthing evidence of criminal conduct by Mr. Gattuso.

Believing that the district court had either clearly erred in this finding of fact or had acted out of a mistaken view of the law, the United States ...

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