* Two senior officials received physical threats -sources

* IRS workers in Cincinnati describe being nervous, afraid

* Some Cincinnati workers allowed to work from home

By Patrick Temple-West and Karl Plume

WASHINGTON/CINCINNATI, June 15 (Reuters) - A current and a former top U.S. tax official have been physically threatened in recent weeks as the scandal over Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups has gathered steam, people familiar with their situation say.

Ousted IRS acting commissioner, Steven Miller, has received such threats, according to a source familiar with his situation. The source declined to elaborate on the nature or the source of the threats.

And the head of the tax-exempt unit at the agency, Lois Lerner, who has been put on administrative leave as investigations into the controversy continue, has had telephone and email messages from unknown sources that "threaten physical violence," according to her attorney William Taylor.

Lerner first disclosed the targeting of conservative groups last month, at a tax conference.

The threats have been referred to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), which is charged with IRS personnel protection, Taylor said.

A TIGTA spokeswoman declined to comment. Miller and Lerner could not be reached for comment.

The scandal has spawned multiple congressional probes and a Justice Department investigation. It is still not clear exactly who specifically within the IRS was responsible for targeting Tea Party groups for intense scrutiny as they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 through 2012, and whether there was a political motivation.

Miller and Lerner live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. On May 15, the day Miller was fired by President Barack Obama, local police stepped up patrols around Miller's home when TV news crews had gathered outside, a law enforcement spokeswoman told Reuters.

Miller, at the time, was getting security protection from federal agents, the spokeswoman said. It is unclear if he is still getting protection. Security has not been added for Lerner's neighborhood, the spokeswoman said.

Police in the area where Miller and Lerner live said they were not investigating any personal threat cases involving IRS employees.

The IRS declined to comment on security procedures.


THREAT DATA

Threats are nothing new for IRS workers. In their unpopular line of work, IRS agents face hundreds of threats annually, including death threats, TIGTA data shows.

But it is unusual for senior IRS executives to get personal threats, said Steve Walsh, a former agent with TIGTA who worked on security for some former commissioners. He is now a licensed private investigator in Los Angeles.

TIGTA provided armed escorts for IRS employees on 74 occasions in fiscal 2012 ended Sept. 30. In the six months from October 2012 through March 2013, TIGTA provided 36 armed escorts to IRS agents.

IRS commissioners have historically had minimal security protection, said Mark Everson, a former IRS commissioner, who retired in 2007.

Everson said a distraught taxpayer once rang his doorbell at home on a Sunday evening, but the incident ended uneventfully. He said he also got phone calls at home from people hoping to vent their tax troubles to the agency's top official.

The recent scandal may force the IRS to reevaluate its security protocol for IRS commissioners, he said. "I am concerned ... there could be increased threats," he said.


'UNDER SIEGE'

In Cincinnati, where a handful of IRS agents primarily handled tax-exempt applications, IRS employees told Reuters they have been nervous and afraid.

IRS workers, who did not want their names published, said that some employees have been working from home to avoid any confrontations with the media or protesters.

On May 21, at least 200 demonstrators representing Tea Party groups rallied outside the Cincinnati IRS building's front entrance, making employees feel uncomfortable, they said.

On the Internet and talk radio, crude and insulting comments have been made about individual IRS workers, calling them "traitors," "un-American" and worse.

Keith Fogg, a former IRS lawyer who is now a professor at Villanova University, said, "The people in Cincinnati must be feeling under siege ... The job stress level must be through the roof in that place at this point." (Reporting by Patrick Temple-West and Karl Plume; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Karey Van Hall and Tim Dobbyn)

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  • President Barack Obama

    "This is pretty straightforward," Obama said at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/obama-irs-scandal_n_3266577.html" target="_blank">press conference</a>. "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

    Rubio <a href="http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=bc8ce2a9-4e95-4792-8744-501d0c1b63b3" target="_blank">penned a letter</a> to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew demanding the IRS commissioner's resignation. The letter begins: "Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s selective and deliberate targeting of conservative organizations are outrageous and seriously concerning. This years-long abuse of government power is an assault on the free speech rights of all Americans. This direct assault on our Constitution further justifies the American people’s distrust in government and its ability to properly implement our laws." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)

    "The admission by the Obama administration that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political opponents echoes some of the most shameful abuses of government power in 20th-century American history. Today, we are left with serious questions: who is ultimately responsible for this travesty? What actions will the Obama administration take to hold them accountable? And have other federal agencies used government powers to attack Americans for partisan reasons? House Republicans have made oversight of federal agencies a top priority on behalf of the American people, and I applaud the work that members such as Charles Boustany, Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan have done to bring this issue to light. I also strongly support Sen. McConnell’s call for a transparent, government-wide review to ensure similar practices are not happening elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy," Boehner said in a <a href="http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-statement-irs-targeting-conservative-groups" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

  • Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

  • Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

  • Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)

    Buchanan also <a href="http://buchanan.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4787:buchanan-to-treasury-secretary-the-nations-trust-in-government-was-betrayed&catid=1:latest-news" target="_blank">wrote a letter</a> calling for the IRS commissioner's resignation. His letter reads: "On March 22, 2012, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee which oversees the IRS, we heard then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman clearly state that the IRS did not engage in the practices of which it is now accused saying "there is absolutely no targeting." Yet, less than a year earlier, Commissioner Shulman's own deputy, Lois Lerner, was made aware that such malpractice had indeed occurred. It became evident that groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names were extremely vulnerable to auditing harassment. Even nonprofit organizations that sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution were unfairly singled out for scrutiny. The nation's trust in government was betrayed by this unconscionable behavior. On behalf of my constituents, your immediate response is not only warranted but essential to clearing up a matter that would have our founding fathers rolling in their graves." (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, File)

  • Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)

  • Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)

  • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)

    "It is unconscionable that the IRS deliberately targeted individuals based on their political beliefs. Absolutely no one should come under extra scrutiny from the IRS because of their political affiliation. It’s simply un-American," Paulsen said in a <a href="http://paulsen.house.gov/press-releases/paulsen-statement-on-fridays-hearing-examining-irs-targeting-conservative-groups/" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

  • Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)

    “I have long been concerned with reports that the IRS has unfairly targeted some political groups over others – a charge that they have repeatedly denied. In March 2012, I sent IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman a letter demanding an explanation of this unacceptable behavior. Now, more than a year later, the IRS has admitted to what we have long suspected – it was targeting tea party groups. The IRS’s actions are unacceptable, and I commend Chairman Dave Camp and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany for moving forward with a full investigation. We will continue to work to ensure there are protections in place so no American, regardless of political affiliation, has their right to free speech threatened by the IRS," Marchant said in a <a href="http://marchant.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=333635" target="_blank">statement</a>. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

  • Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

  • Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)

  • Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

    <i>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this slideshow incorrectly identified Udall as a Republican.</i>

  • Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)

  • Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

    “Today’s revelation that the IRS targeted average Americans using taxpayer dollars solely for disagreeing with them politically is completely unacceptable from this Administration. “Partisan politics have consistently characterized this White House, and the Administration must take immediate disciplinary action and ensure American citizens are not subject to this type of Orwellian persecution again," Cornyn said in a <a href="http://www.cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=NewsReleases&ContentRecord_id=ebc9edeb-f748-45cf-a6b3-0143c6cb41c0" target="_blank">statement</a>. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)