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Search warrant reveals tax probe involving Hennepin Co. Chief Public Defender

No criminal charges have been filed, but an IRS search warrant filed in January in federal court targeted payroll records of Kassius Benson’s private law firm.

MINNEAPOLIS — Although no charges have been filed, a recently unsealed search warrant reveals that the Internal Revenue Service launched a criminal investigation in January targeting the Chief Public Defender for Hennepin County for unpaid taxes.

Kassius Benson took over the office, which provides court-appointed criminal defense to people who can’t afford private representation, in December 2020.

Prior to taking on that role, Benson owned and operated his own private law firm specializing in criminal defense and family law. According to the search warrant, an IRS revenue agent alleged that Benson collected more than $159,000 in withholding taxes from his employees but failed to forward the money the federal government.

The investigation began in in July 2020, when an IRS revenue agent initiated an audit of the Kassius Benson Law Office. The warrant application says the audit found Benson failed to pay employment and unemployment taxes for the years 2013 and 2015-2019.

Benson ceased contact with the revenue agent in January 2021, the court document says, and a special agent from the IRS criminal investigation unit took over.

Credit: KARE 11
After Kassius Benson became public defender, his law firm website said he was not taking cases.

Special Agent Ryan Olson wrote in the search warrant application dated January 13, 2022, that he believes there is probable cause that Benson committed violations of the federal law titled “Willful failure to collect or pay over tax.” Benson has not been charged with any crimes, and there is no pending indictment viewable to the public. The current status of the investigation is unknown.

The agent obtained the warrant to search the paycheck manager service website utilized by Benson. The search warrant was originally sealed in January at the request of the U. S. Attorney’s office. The government told the court the investigators intended to use a grand jury to interview witnesses previously employed by Benson. The order sealing the warrant recently expired, making it a public court record. 

In seeking permission from the judge to execute the search warrant, Special Agent Olson wrote that Benson has represented clients for tax fraud, and “Benson has specific knowledge of federal criminal laws concerning income tax fraud, income tax evasion, payroll tax fraud, and how the government prosecutes these cases.”

KARE 11 attempted to seek comment from Benson by phone, email, and in-person at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, but he did not return messages.

In a written statement, State Public Defender Bill Ward, who leads the board that oversees Benson, told KARE 11: “Both the Board and I are aware of an IRS investigation and potential allegations related to Mr. Benson and his law firm prior to his appointment as Chief Public Defender. At this point, these are only allegations. Should the allegations be formalized, like all citizens, Mr. Benson is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. We are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action - if necessitated - as circumstances unfold.”

A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson declined to comment.

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