IRS Guidance for Thieves, Drug Dealers, and Corrupt Officials

June 09, 2014

IRS Publication 17, which helps taxpayers determine how to report their income, is extremely detailed. Its section on "Other Income" has some of the most fascinating sorts of income you are obligated to report. Here are three that stand out:

            Bribes. If you receive a bribe, include it in your income.

Illegal activities. Income from illegal activities, such as money from dealing illegal drugs, must be included in your income on Form 1040, line 21, or on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040) if from your self-employment activity.

Stolen property. If you steal property, you must report its fair market value in your income in the year you steal it unless in the same year, you return it to its rightful owner.

As you can see, Publication 17 is very helpful to a variety of villains and dishonest folk. There is some interesting case law on the subject; the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows Congress to levy an income tax, comes into conflict with the Fifth Amendment, which includes a right against self-incrimination.

The conclusion of the matter is unsurprising; it would be absurd to exempt criminals from reporting income on their tax forms while asking it of honest workers. However, Fifth Amendment privilege allows one to report illegal income without revealing its precise source.

The constitutional questions are tricky, but this is good neutral tax policy from the IRS. In a nice touch, income from stolen property is offset with deductibility of many classes of stolen property.

The main concern with these classes of taxable income, obviously, is compliance. Thieves do not make for honest taxpayers.

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