TAMPA — Adding another tool in their fight against tax fraud, Tampa authorities on Friday essentially doubled the number of people who can bring these federal investigations to court.
The Internal Revenue Service deputized 29 local and state law enforcement officers, giving them the authority to conduct identity theft cases in any jurisdiction.
Authorities say the move will allow those in this new Identity Theft Alliance to investigate and prosecute more tax fraud cases and, in a way, doubles the Tampa IRS division's 25-person investigative force.
The deputized local officers will have access to IRS documents and can work cases anywhere in the nation.
Also, instead of handing over federal cases, these local officers can work with IRS agents all the way through the grand jury process, said Tampa IRS special agent in charge James Robnett.
"We extended our authority to them," Robnett said. "It will make a big difference."
IRS agents have been overwhelmed with tax fraud cases, while local authorities have complained about limited roles.
Nationally, new investigations tripled from 2011 to 2012 and are on pace to break records this year amid a "massive nationwide sweep" in 215 cities, the IRS chief said last month.
Tampa and Miami are epicenters, authorities say.
Tampa police Capt. Mike Baumaister said he expects the alliance will increase the number of cases being investigated.
"You're going to see a lot more people being indicted," he said.
Six Tampa police officers are part of the alliance, as are others across the Tampa Bay area.
"Everything will start moving faster," he said, "and it will grow."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.