SOURCE: A Just Cause

A Just Cause

March 31, 2015 10:43 ET

Advocacy Group, A Just Cause, Calls for Congressional Inquiry Into Possible IRS Violations of Religious Rights of a Colorado Church

A Just Cause Questions If IRS Violated Religious Rights and IRS Rules When It Probed Into Banking Records of the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - March 31, 2015) - This week advocacy group A Just Cause asked the U.S. Congress to look into the actions of federal investigators who probed into the banking records of the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church and its Pastor, Rose M. Banks, during the course of their investigation of a Colorado-based software development company called IRP Solutions (D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA).

A Just Cause has been reviewing actions surrounding the criminal investigation of IRP Solutions Corporation. The IRP case concerns an African-American company (IRP Solutions Corporation) in Colorado that developed the Case Investigative Life Cycle (CILC) criminal investigations software for federal, state, and local law enforcement. The "IRP6" (Kendrick Barnes, Gary L Walker, Demetrius K. Harper, Clinton A Stewart, David A Zirpolo and David A Banks) were convicted in 2011 after being accused of mail and wire fraud. (D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA.) The IRP6 have been incarcerated for nearly 36 months in federal prison in Florence, Colorado while A Just Cause continues to review their case seeking grounds for exoneration.

"A Just Cause previously pondered certain actions that were taken by federal investigators which indicated that they were trying to tie the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church to their investigation of IRP Solutions," says Sam Thurman, A Just Cause. "The executives of IRP Solutions Corporation all attended the same church (Colorado Springs Fellowship Church), but where one chooses to worship should not open the door for that place of worship to be targeted and records seized in violation of laws that protect against that type of thing," adds Thurman.

Court documents show that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) participated in at least part of the investigation of the IRP6 (which included conducting investigative interviews and obtaining banking records of their church, several of the church members and the church Pastor). (D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA.)

A Just Cause has filed new findings with Congressional oversight committees on behalf of the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church, where A Just Cause and the church believes that the IRS violated IRC section 7611 when it obtained church banking records without a subpoena. IRC 7611 states, "The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if an appropriate high-level Treasury Department official reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on an unrelated business or other taxable activity (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf). 

Discovery documents in the IRP case show that over 9000 pages out of 18000 pages of discovery were church banking records and personal banking records of Pastor Rose Banks and numerous church members. According to court documents, the Pastor and these parishioners were not named in any search warrants, nor were they notified that they were under investigation by anyone from the U.S. Attorney's Office. (D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA)

According to court records, during the trial of the IRP6, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Kirsch questioned grand jury foreperson Cynthia Haid about who the target of the investigation was and Ms. Haid responded, "Rose Banks" (Pastor of The Colorado Springs Fellowship Church) (09-cr-00151-CMA).

In a response to local ABC television affiliate KRDO, U.S. Attorney (Denver) spokesperson Jeff Dorschner stated on behalf of Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Kirsch that, "…the church was not the target of an investigation." (KRDO-TV, Colorado Springs, June 6, 2010.)

"There's an obvious inconsistency when the U.S. Attorney's office is saying that the church, its Pastor and members are not under investigation, yet the grand jury foreperson blurts out the name of the Pastor," Thurman observes.

"Not only did the U.S. Attorney's Office implicate the church, IRS actions seemed to violate IRS rules regarding investigations and audits of non-profit organizations," added Thurman. Thurman continued, "We believe that the IRS violated the procedures of IRC section 7611 which states that the church should have received written notification if there were concerns" (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf).

"I contacted my bank and they confirmed that my banking records were given to (IRS/FBI/DOJ) as part of an investigation, but they couldn't produce a subpoena that showed that this was authorized," says Michele Harris, a former contract employee of IRP Solutions and CSFC church member. "This type of thing is very concerning to me that the government can just go into peoples' records without cause or proper authority," adds Harris.

Court records show that the IRP6 challenged the government on how banking records were obtained. Court records further show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirsch argued that the defendants' grounds for suppression and the ability to formulate a defense strategy did not outweigh grand jury secrecy. "There is no Fourth Amendment grounds for suppression because the defendants don't have any reasonable expectation of privacy in business records that are held by a third party," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Kirsch during a 2010 hearing. "Part of what is confidential about the subpoenas, themselves, is the manner in which the government makes the requests for these materials; that revealing the subpoenas would reveal part of the tactics by which the government conducts its investigation," said Kirsch. "But I think that this is the first -- granting this motion is the first step down a slippery slope," said Kirsch. (Case 1:09-cr-00266-CMA Document 272 Filed 08/12/10 USDC Colorado)

"A Just Cause also found that a UPS Store postal annex that was used by the church and various church members was also searched without a warrant or subpoena," claims Thurman. "First-Class letters and parcels are protected against search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and, as such, cannot be opened without a search warrant. If there is probable cause to believe the contents of a First-Class letter or parcel violate federal law, Postal Inspectors can obtain a search warrant to open the mail piece. Other classes of mail do not contain private correspondence, and therefore may be opened without a warrant" (https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/faq.aspx). "The proprietor of the UPS Store stated that a Postal Inspector and another federal agent inspected mail boxes of several church members who had business and/or personal mail boxes at his facility without a subpoena," Thurman added. "The proprietor went on to state that he had to allow the agents to inspect the boxes or risk loss of his license to operate as a postal annex. These acts of intimidation and encroachment upon one's privacy can't go unchecked. The rights of U.S. citizens should be protected and not trampled upon," asserts Thurman.

"A Just Cause questions the motives and authority by which the FBI and the IRS probed into the banking records of the Colorado Springs Fellowship Church (and its members) without subpoenas or following IRC 7611, especially if the church was 'not the target of an investigation,'" ponders Thurman. 

"As part of A Just Cause's ongoing review of the IRP case, we are asking Congress to look into the actions of the IRS," states Thurman. "Oversight committees are very interested in hearing about instances of possible misconduct on the part of federal agencies," Thurman adds. "We trust that Congress will launch an inquiry into this matter, the results of which will most likely have other implications related to the IRP case," concludes Thurman.

The Colorado Springs Fellowship Church is a 501c3 non-profit church based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The CSFC is a nondenominational church founded in 1981 by Pastor Rose Banks and has a congregation of 300 to 500.

The case of IRP Solutions (IRP6) continues to be reviewed by A Just Cause (US District Court for the District of Colorado, Honorable Christine M. Arguello, D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA; Case Nos: NO. 11-1487, Case Nos. 11-1488, 11-1489, 11-1490, 11-1491 and 11-1492). For more information about the story of the IRP6 or for copies of the legal filings go to http://www.freetheirp6.org.

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