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(Tribune File Photo) Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah
Chaffetz puts IRS official on the hot seat over lavish spending

First Published Jun 06 2013 12:38 pm • Last Updated Jun 06 2013 10:34 pm

Washington • Under intense questioning by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, an Internal Revenue Service official said he wasn’t aware of the costs of a lavish 2010 conference, even though he signed off on the spending beforehand.

Chaffetz and other members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee grilled IRS veteran Faris Fink on Thursday for the $4.1 million conference that included a campy Star Trek video starring employees of the tax agency and stays in lavish hotel suites.

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Fink defended the conference as important for the agency’s small business unit, which had a high number of new people, though, in hindsight it could have cost less.

"We should have been more diligent in our responsibility to the American taxpayer and to the American public," Fink said when pressed by Chaffetz.

The congressman repeatedly asked Fink when he became aware of the cost of the conference, which the inspector general said was one of 225 events that the IRS spent $50 million on from 2010 through 2012.

Fink responded: "I actually did not become aware of the massive expense until much later. I did not know what the expense was at the time of the conference that we were paying."

That turned out to be untrue.

An investigator with the inspector general’s office noted Fink signed off on the estimated costs of the event, which were $4.3 million, roughly $200,000 more than the IRS ended up spending.

Fink then corrected his testimony to say he did sign "the routing slip."

A visibly frustrated Chaffetz pointed out the inconsistency in Fink’s testimony and asked: "Are you here claiming no responsibility at this point?"

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"Absolutely not. That’s why I am here," Fink said.

Thursday’s hearing comes as the Congress continues to probe the actions of the IRS, and follows another inspector general report that another section of the taxing agency inappropriately targeted conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status.

That revelation led President Barack Obama to remove the acting commissioner of the agency.

mcanham@sltrib.com Twitter: @mattcanham

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