Around 8 a.m., a fleet of large, black sport utility vehicles with tinted windows and out-of-state license plates rolled up in front of Telescope Pictures on 16th Street. The crowd having breakfast at a diner across the street watched as federal agents wearing bulletproof vests and dark jackets got out of the vehicles and entered the business.
“They were wearing flak jackets and ski masks. They just rolled up and jumped out of all these cars with plates from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. tags. I’ve never seen anything this serious,” said City Council President Jim Hall, who was eating breakfast in the diner at the time and watched the raid unfold.
The agents’ jackets identified them as members of the “IRS Criminal Enforcement Division,” and some were wearing firearms. Hall said they removed some people from the property who appeared to be living in apartments above the business, and then began to empty the place.
“They took computers, books, boxes, everything,” he said.
Telescope Pictures is the company holding the city franchise to provide beach photographers. The photographers take pictures of beachgoers, who can go to the 16th Street offices to purchase their photos at the end of the day. The company is owned by Patrick McLaughlin and is also known as United Beach Photo Inc.
The company holds the two beach photo franchises and the night before the IRS raid, McLaughlin was the only bidder in an auction to hold the franchises for the next four years. Hall did not know whether the city would be able to accept his bids or have to hold another auction.
McLaughlin is perhaps the biggest player in direct business with the city through its franchises. Aside from the beach photo franchises, he also holds approximately half of the city’s beach equipment rental stand franchises, has a small stake in an ice cream vending truck franchise and holds three of the resort’s taxicab medallions.
The IRS agent in charge of the Telescope Pictures case declined to comment on the details of search and seizure or the case in general and the IRS media contact did not return calls seeking comment about the case. Calls made to the Telescope Pictures office were met by a recording announcing the office was closed for the season.
Christine Cullen, Staff Writer