WASHINGTON-The president of a Missouri tire and wheel distributorship has written his congressional representatives, protesting the ``strong-arm tactics'' the Internal Revenue Service used on his firm. Friend Tire Co., a Monett, Mo. subsidiary of Yokohama Tire Corp., was one of several companies subjected to an unannounced IRS search and seizure of its records Feb. 14. The agency is investigating an alleged scheme to bilk the government out of excise taxes on truck tires.
According to Yokohama, the IRS does not suspect Friend Tire itself of wrongdoing. The agency wanted Friend Tire's records, however, to trace the path of illegal activities by others.
The sudden IRS raid ``shook the very roots of our business and challenged the founding principles which guide this great nation of ours,'' said Friend Tire President Donald L. Isbell in a Feb. 29 letter sent to Missouri Senators Christopher Bond and John D. Ashcroft and Rep. Mel Hancock.
According to Mr. Isbell, more than a dozen armed IRS agents entered Friend Tire's offices Feb. 14, ordered its employees to stop working and moved them into a break room. They then shut down the company's telephone system for the entire day.
The agents never told Mr. Isbell or other Friend Tire employees the reason for the raid, he said.
``Under the all-inclusive permission of the (federal) warrant, the `agents' began to search every office and select materials to be removed,'' he said. ``A quantity of accounting records and extraneous bits and pieces of paper were boxed and removed. However, none of these papers would have prevented us from conducting our normal business.''
Had the IRS simply asked for the records ``in a reasonable manner,'' Friend Tire would have cooperated, Mr. Isbell said.
``Further complicating the situation, the IRS released prepared statements to the local media,'' he said. ``The resulting newspaper stories fueled wild speculation and rumors-locally and nationally-among our customers and suppliers, seriously damaging our company's image and reputation.''
Mr. Isbell urged the lawmakers to ``take the necessary steps to see that other businesses like Friend Tire are spared the embarrassment these kinds of situations create.''
A Justice Department criminal investigation division in Atlanta is heading the tire excise tax investigation. Karl Oroz, head of the Atlanta division, said indictments would be handed down ``as quickly as we can analyze the information.''
Friend Tire, according to Mr. Isbell, distributes tires and wheels to 28 states through a chain of nine warehouses.