Taxpayers in the Intermountain West have the ninth highest rate for being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, but they pay the highest average penalties, a records review shows.

Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that in the IRS Rocky Mountain district - Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado - 2 percent of the people who made $100,000 a year or more in 1995 were audited.They paid an average of $39,622 in taxes and penalties, the New York-based school noted.

The IRS has 33 districts, but the Rocky Mountain district typically has a high number of government protesters who refuse to file tax returns, said Theo Ellery, a spokeswoman for the IRS Service Center here.

"They are angry at the Forest Service and the IRS and Social Security," said Ellery, who once worked as an IRS examiner in Montana.

Many residents of those states also are self-employed or own small businesses, and they face a bigger risk of making errors on their documents, she said.

"You have to do a lot more bookkeeping. There's a tendency to make a lot of mistakes," Ellery said.

Ron Casper, a Salt Lake political consultant and federal tax code protester, said those mistakes come because tax laws are too complicated.

Casper is the Utah director for the National Federation of Independent Business, a national group that wants to abolish the federal tax code.

In September, federation members launched a national petition drive in hopes of gathering 1 million signatures in support of Tax Code Termination Act bills.

Such measures have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, said Kristin Hogarth, the group's spokeswoman in Wash-ing-ton.

So far, they have 400,000 signatures.

The Syracuse University clearinghouse report, which is based on figures obtained from the Government Accounting Office, states that the audit rate for the Los Angeles area was the nation's highest with 4.5 percent of 1996 returns being examined.

That area's taxpayers paid an average of $35,448 in penalties, the nation's second-highest average.