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Oh The Audit Places I Have Been...

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Companies have to let auditors in the door but they don’t have to make them comfortable. Over the course of 25+ years, I conducted sales tax audits in a wide range of settings from the lap of luxury to (almost) the outhouse. Naturally, the vast majority of audits were conducted in the standard business office where I was provided with a desk, a chair, a phone, and electricity. It might sound funny to call out the fact that electricity was provided, but it could not always be taken for granted.

One of my earliest audits was conducted at the home of the taxpayer’s accountant. I sat on the sofa and spread the records out on the coffee table. Leaning over for hours to write on the table was bad enough, but what really made the audit memorable was the accountant’s three Great Danes. They literally towered over me while I was sitting and then growled every time I stood. The accountant had to put them in a “sit, stay” position so I could move about. As soon as I sat down, they circled around once again and hovered, monitoring all I did.

Another uncomfortable home audit occurred when I was training a new hire. This time the bookkeeper made her spare bedroom available as an office. Unfortunately, it was furnished as a bedroom, so we spread the records out on the bed and borrowed a couple of kitchen chairs to sit on. But at least we had chairs and electricity.

An audit where I had neither a chair nor electricity was one where the taxpayer stored all their records in a Conex container at the back of their property. The records had been placed in storage boxes and then the boxes tossed into the container. There was no rhyme or reason to how the boxes were arranged other than the more recent records were generally near the front. Sure was fun digging through that mountain of boxes and records, finding evidence of little furry visitors and sighting them occasionally. Did I mention it was summer in southern California and that those metal containers retain heat really well?

Of course, there were also the grocery and liquor store audits where the work was done in the storage room using crates for a desk and chair. There’s probably not an auditor out there who hasn’t had a similar experience. It’s a moral victory if you aren’t put up against the cooler section. But at least those surroundings were generally clean.

There have been a couple of audits where there wasn’t even a building involved. When I first started there was an accounting company that operated out of a fleet of vans. Doing an audit literally meant meeting them on a street corner and working out of the van while it was parked at the curb. I also performed a couple of audits from my own VW camper because either the taxpayer had absolutely no place for me to sit or the conditions were so bad I couldn’t work there.

The other extreme was where I had entire buildings or least one floor all to myself. This happened twice with the same taxpayer. They operated out of some WWII vintage manufacturing buildings that formerly held huge presses. For the first audit, they found me a small office in the corner of the second floor with nothing else; no dividers, no other rooms. Nothing…for as far as the eye could see. Very weird showing up in the morning and opening up the building and then spending all day alone in a huge empty two-story structure. The second audit was similar, but this time I was located in a smaller, single-story building divided into four or five rooms, only one of which was occupied periodically. It’s just that this building was at the farthest part of the yard from the rest of the taxpayer’s complex.  Those audits certainly provided plenty of privacy, but there were no records or staff anywhere near me; they were all located in the main building several hundred yards away.

A couple of audits at the other end of the working condition spectrum stand out. One was a private office on the 25th floor with a view of downtown San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. Another was an office where half of one wall was a saltwater fish tank. The tank held a couple small sharks and a sting ray along with several other species of fish―a very soothing escape from the tedium of scheduling numbers.

Probably the most unusual “good” working conditions were those at the local “gentleman’s club.”  The actual work space was in a back office, but to get to it meant passing through the entertainment area. And since the entertainers worked continuously during all hours they were open, there was always something to see during the journey...

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1 Responses to Oh The Audit Places I Have Been...

  • Posted by craig on February 13, 2013 1:58am:

    I have a small landscape business and i am being audited on my sales and tax. Now i dont have a sales and tax use number and just always paid the sales tax on all the materials i use and i dont mark up materials when i install them. I asked my former bookkeeper about this awhle ago and he told me that since i do only construction that a lot of that would fall under "capital improvment", which to my understanding was tax exempt as long as i paid my sales tax on all my goods...this is really all i have to give the auditer when she comes..what can i expect. thanks so much
    craig tillman


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