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Tracking White-Collar Crime -- Big Brother is Listening

by Robert D. Hersshey Jr.

When not in the feild "wiring up" undercover operators, Thomas F. Bushery, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, spends his days in s studio-like office near the Loop listening through headphones to often incriminating coversations.

Bushery is in the electronics section of the IRS's criminal forensic laboritory, where his voice enhacement work helped establish the recent money-laundering case against the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

His colleagues, spread over three floors of an office building, are high-tech detectives specializing in altered documents, fingerprints, ink and paper analysis, and polygraphs.

The 33 people in this office, which is concerned mostly with tax evasion, are dedicated to finding out who has filed multiple returns seeking refunds they are not entitled to, clandestinely stashed away money in a Caribbean bank or altered a credit-card receipt so that a $12 lunch becomes a $120 dinner for two.

The laboratory, the only one operated by the revenue service, cooperates with other law enforcement agencies and may occasionally help expose a corrupt mayor or provide testimony in a murder case.

The lab's voiceprint abilities have also been used on bomb-threat cases.

"We consider ourselves the best white-collar crime lab in the country", said Jack R. Calvert, the director of the $3.5 million-a-year operation.

The Lab traces its origins to the Oleomargarine Act of 1886, but as recently as 1973 it consisted only of Calvert and one other man. (The predecessor agency was created to enforce the law requiring margarine manufacturers to make their product look clearly different from butter.)

In addition to traditional detective work like fingerprint analysis, the lab has helped pioneer other high-technology processes.

Bushery, for example, is an expert in eliminating background noise from tapes. Filtering out the sound of the wind or a jukebox or flushing toilet allows agents to make more sense of the voices of informants or suspects.

His tools are various kinds of filters and other gear worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, some so sophisticated that the agency will not describe it or permit it to be photographed.

Most so-called mom-and-pop cased of tax evasion are handled in the field without benefit of world-class expertise. But Calvert explains, "Any large case in which there is money owed to the government -- or a large amount of cash seized -- it is nine chances out of 10 we have some involvement."

IRS officials will not comment directly on pending cases, but it is believed that the lab was instrumental in aiding extensive federal investigations of trading in Chicago's futures markets, which led to dozens of indictments.

In developing the case against the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Calvert said he had analyzed about 140 tapes.

The lab has begun to use lasers for enhancing fingerprints, among other things, but people here seem most proud of its ink-and-paper chemistry section.

The ink library of more than 5,000 specimens -- fountain pen, felt-tip and stamp pad in addition to ballpoint-pen ink -- allows analysts to determine with the aid of a spectrograph that a document may have been backdated.

The IRS specialized in every-day writing inks and Treasury agents concentrate on printing inks, like those that would be used by counterfeiters. Some maufacturers put "tags" in their inks, mostly for purposes of quality control, that can also help IRS agents show that a particular ink was introduced after the time a document was supposedly written.

In one case, several notebooks of documents offered in support of bussiness deductions for 1978-79 turned out to have been written with two different erasable ink ballpoint pens, neither of which was marketed until a year or so later.

Larry Olson, an ink specialist, estimated that his section performs 90 to 100 analyses a year, including those in which scrutiny of fiber content and other characteristics of paper allow identification of the producer and the year it was made.

On another floor, another specialist, Pat Cushing, brings latent fingerprints into full purplish view by spraying cash or tax returns with ninhydrin, which reacts with perspiration. She also can sharpen them by means of an image-enhancer with origins in the space program. Sometimes she uses lasers or Super Glue to extract prints from non-porous objects.

Yet another section is for polygraph examination, used mainly to test potential informants for reliability and to ask criminals about possible co-conspitors or hidden assets.

"We don't do firearms; we don't do serology; we don't do some other things," Calvert said. But because of a surge in money-laundering and other-tax-related crime, "we are very, very busy these days," he added.

This article Copyright © 1991 by by Robert D. Hersshey Jr.. According to the author, the text on this page may be freely reproduced and distributed.
If you have any questions about this, please check out our Copyright Policy.


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