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Audit Threat

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When police or detectives encounter a recalcitrant witness who owns or runs a business, and they get him to talk by threatening to sic a government agency on them. This threat usually opens the witness's mouth, especially if the business deals in mostly cash, or is obviously less than reputable. Government agencies often used in the threat include those scary tax agencies like the American IRS and regulatory bodies like liquor licensing boards.

This is far less common than one might think and is usually not Truth in Television. The IRS and most equivalent agencies need to have probable cause to audit a business. Simply doing so on the say so of a police officer is guaranteed to result in the audit being ruled illegal by a judge even if anything incriminating were to be found. (And even if something incriminating was found, the police couldn't use it anyway due to "fruit of the poisonous tree" laws that prevent illegally-obtained evidence from being used in a criminal case.) Police or detectives employing this tactic would also certainly face disciplinary action if not dismissal from the force.

Audit agencies are also very busy and none of them are going to conduct a time-consuming audit solely because the cops complain someone is being uncooperative unless it's an exceptionally blatant or high profile case.

Contrast Empty Cop Threat.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga for AKIRA, the military exaggerates this. When the barman confidently produces his liquor license, the agent talking to him proceeds to burn it, informing the barman that of course he'll have to pass another inspection to get a new one...

    Comic Books 
  • Used by the Beagle Boys in one Donald Duck comic. When Donald refuses to reveal the location of Scrooge's money vault among the four dozen he had built, they grab a blank tax form and start filling it out for him, putting down the kind of income that, well, Scrooge would be familiar with. He caves in after that. Fortunately, after Donald explains the situation (once the vault is emptied) and gets Scrooge to stop killing him, Scrooge starts dynamiting the other vaults... where it turns out the Beagle Boys had stashed it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Angel (1984), Miss Allen is attempting to gain access to Molly's apartment but is being stonewalled by Molly's landlord Solly. Miss Allen then tells Solly that she used to work for the Department of Health and she can see so many violations in this rattrap that she could get the apartment building closed with one call to City Hall. Solly relents and gives her the key to the apartment.
  • In Beverly Hills Cop, Axel Foley is caught illegally searching for evidence; he pretends to be an inspector and threatens an employee who questions his authority with an IRS audit. The employee drops his objections.
  • Blade Runner. Police officer Deckard is trying to get information from strip club owner Taffey Lewis.
    Deckard: Did you ever see this girl?
    Taffey: Never seen her. Buzz off.
    Deckard: Your licenses in order, pal?
    Taffey: (unimpressed) Hey, Louie. The man is dry. Give him one on the house, okay? See ya.
  • The Eiger Sanction (1975). Retired Badass and art professor Jon Hemlock is coerced back for One Last Job after Dragon threatens to tip off the IRS about his art collection bought on the black market. He then follows this up with an even worse threat — the idea of Hemlock's precious paintings being bought by the great unwashed public, or even Dragon's brainless henchman Mr Pope, whom Hemlock loathes.
    Dragon: I should think your collection would be interesting material for the Internal Revenue people. How does an underpaid professor buy rare paintings? Masterpieces worth millions.
    Hemlock: I wonder what the tax people would say if I revealed how I made the money — by killing people for the government.
    Dragon: True, but of course, no one will believe you. More importantly, it won't do anything for your paintings. What do you think would happen to them? I imagine they'd be seized and...auctioned off, made available to everyone. Perhaps Mr. Pope would be able to buy one. Won't it do your heart good to think of one of your Mr. Pope's hands?
    Hemlock: Dragon, you have a talent for describing the indescribable.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: When Holmes, Watson and Lestrade attempt to gain access to the rubber factory, the owner tells them to come back with a search warrant. Holmes says that one can be easily obtained, but adds that it might be more profitable to return with the labour commissioners: noting that unlike its neighbours, his factory has bar on the inside, not the outside, of its windows, indicating that he is more concerned with keeping someone in, rather than out, and deducing that his workforce must likely consists of illegal immigrants. The owner caves and agrees to tell them what they want to know.
  • Robert Stack's tycoon character in Uncommon Valor gets threatened with IRS audits if he continues to fund the operation to go rescue some long-abandoned and left for dead Vietnam War prisoners (amongst which is his and The Hero's son). His response is a simple "fuck you".

  • In Bloodline, by Sidney Sheldon, many people would cooperate with any investigation lead by Detective Max Hornung because of the reputation he earned during his previous job as a tax auditor. And only once in the whole book he's ever seen actually threatening someone. He did earn his reputation.
  • Discworld:
    • Lord Vetinari mentions once to a complaining guild that, incidentally, they were on the taxpayer register last he looked.
    • In Men at Arms, the City Watch (under Corporal Carrot) uses this to get some weapons to deal with the civil unrest in Ankh-Morpork from the armory.
    • The same book has a subversion: Carrot seems to pull this on Ironcrust, but Ironcrust has no reason to be uncooperative (he's the person who was robbed), and Carrot is genuinely confused that someone would say "I pay my taxes" when they aren't on the register, and thinks that coming back the next day with the correct forms would be helpful.
    • By the time of Snuff, the City Watch has gained the power to use this threat thanks to A.E. Pessimal.
  • Inverted with the angel in disguise Aziraphale in Good Omens: he pays his taxes so scrupulously that he gets audited repeatedly on the basis that he must have something to hide.
  • In Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco book Time To Depart, Falco and Petro are talking to the receptionist of a brothel (they were going to question her boss) when she offers them 'something special', a freeborn whore. Petro asks if the receptionist can show him the official she's registered with, and her registration number, after which she realises that they weren't there to score.
  • Travis McGee: In The Empty Copper Sea, McGee pulls this on a a bar owner: knowing that health and fire codes are contradictory and therefore he is almost guaranteed to be breaking one of them. This scene was kept in the 1980 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation Travis McGee; a Failed Pilot Episode starring Rod Taylor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: NY has Flack do this a fair bit. Mac does it once as well and followed through...he and Stella walked away grinning as a Fed agent laundry-listed the perp's charges.
  • A variation in Doc Martin. PC Penhale runs a Loan Shark out of town despite not being able to demonstrate that the man has been committing crimes by threatening to give the van he runs his business out of a very thorough vehicle inspection.
  • I Dream of Jeannie: In "My Master The Rich Tycoon" it's a case of dueling audit threats. An IRS man threatens to audit Dr. Bellows if he doesn't cough up some information on Major Nelson. Dr. Bellows threatens to have the IRS man drafted. Touché, Dr. Bellows, touché.
  • On Justified US Marshal Raylan is in Florida looking for a fugitive and needs to get in touch with Daryl Crowe. He goes to talk to one of Daryl's associates but the guy is uncooperative. Raylan then tells him that he and his partner are going to grab food at a local diner and if Daryl is not there by the time they finish eating, they will come back with a warrant and an official from Fish and Wildlife. Since the guy has been illegally poaching alligators, he quickly becomes cooperative. Averted when they meet with Daryl since the marshals simply threaten to send him back to jail for a parole violation which is within their jurisdiction.
  • Happens all the time on Law & Order. Lenny Briscoe was fond of threatening to sic the Board of Health onto bars when the owners weren't being cooperative.
  • On Law & Order: SVU, they've followed through on the threat at least twice. In one episode, Rollins uses the audit threat to get a witness to comply — and once that's done, pulls an I Lied and signals the FBI to come pouring in.
  • In one episode of Murphy Brown, Murphy gets in trouble with the White House (again), and Miles ends up dealing with the fallout.
    Miles: I made a new friend today: Dave, head of the Secret Service. Nice guy, I think he really meant it when he said he hoped there were no mistakes on my last seven tax returns!
    • In Gibbs's case, he makes it stick, because it's not a threat, it's a promise.
  • In one episode of The Nanny, Fran ponders this as a way to deal with her possessive, "connected" boyfriend, by exploiting her own family connections.
  • In NCIS, Tony or Gibbs also do this on occasions.
  • In The Rockford Files, people in official positions often threaten to have Jim Rockford's private investigator's license reviewed to get him to cooperate.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Dax," Quark refuses Odo's request to shut down his bar for several days so it can be used as a venue for Dax's trial. In response, Odo threatens to abuse his authority as station constable by making up new building codes that would cost Quark a fortune to meet.
  • Supernatural.
    • Inverted in "The Slice Girls". An academic expects some 'financial remuneration' when consulted on the 'serial killer' so Dean pretends they'll have a 'friendly' word with the IRS if they get some cooperation.
    • In "What's Up, Tiger Mommy?", Sam and Dean try Perp Sweating a pawn shop owner into giving up information, but he's not impressed as they're covered by CCTV cameras. Mrs. Tran, however, points out that her brother in the tax department had better not find out about the fancy sports car he's got parked outside.
  • In Veep, Selina gets a congresswoman to vote for a bill she supports by threatening, among other things, to sic the IRS on her corrupt husband.
  • Vera: In "Dark Angel", Vera and Aiden interview a recalcitrant pawnbroker. When she claims to have no record of the man they are investigating, they start to leave, then Vera looks around the shop and announces that she reckons most of the gear in here is bent and asks Aiden how long it will take him to get a warrant. Aiden replies "20 minutes" and Vera calmly starts talking about they can come back here and pull the place apart. At this point the pawnbroker cracks and tells them what they want to know.
  • In the Eli Sternberg arc in Wiseguy, Federal Agent McPike is trying to get some information from a company that does business with the group that they are investigating. They refuse, until McPike says "If you don't let me in, I will call my friends at the IRS. They eat guys like you for breakfast". The company lets him in immediately.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum: With some points in Persuasion, claiming to be from the Tarant Council allows some conflicts to be resolved peacefully (such as mentioning the "irregularities" in the acquisition of Bessie Toone's mine or asking what exactly the Schuylers' clerk what exactly his bosses are up to).

  • Dominic Deegan has Sieg's father, Lars, called in to help with his son's exorcism. "I'm an accountant! What am I going to do, threaten it with a tax audit?" A few moments later:
    "Begone, demon, or be plagued with high-interest rates!"
  • In Scary Go Round, secret agent Fallon Young uses the same sort of pressure to get inventor Tim Jones to join her on a mission.

     Western Animation 
  • In Danny Phantom, this was used several times by people representing the government. It got quick results in each instance.
  • Hiccup uses a similar tactic to get information from Trader Johann in an episode of Dragons: Race To The Edge:
    Hiccup: Do you know what "trade sanctions" are?
    Johann: Two words that should never be used in the same sentence.

     Real Life 
  • This was one of the tactics the FBI used as part of its COINTELPRO operation targeting radical groups in The '60s.