With less than one month left in this year’s tax season, the Department of Justice urges taxpayers to choose their return preparers wisely. Return preparer fraud is one of the IRS’ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. Unscrupulous preparers who include errors or false information on a customer’s return could leave a taxpayer open to liability for unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest.
Over the last year, the Justice Department’s Tax Division has worked with U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country to bring both civil and criminal action against dishonest tax preparers, seeking as appropriate civil injunctions to stop ongoing fraud, civil penalties or disgorgement of ill-gotten proceeds, and criminal sanctions. The department intends to send a strong message that those who prepare fraudulent returns will face serious and lasting consequences.
Examples of civil injunctions obtained by the Tax Division over the last year include:
- On Feb. 25, 2021, a federal court in Delaware enjoined return preparers Jorge Bravo, Michael Eller Income Tax Service, Nelson Graciano and Pedro Toala from preparing, filing or assisting in the preparation or filing of any federal tax returns which claim ineligible persons as dependents, claim improper business expenses or losses, or improperly claiming the Child Tax Credit and other credits. The injunction runs through Dec. 31, 2026, and requires the defendants to hire an independent monitor to examine selected returns.
- On Nov. 17, 2020, a federal court in the Northern District of New York entered a stipulated permanent injunction against Demetric Williams, individually and doing business as Poor No More LLP, that bars him from preparing returns for others, and from owning or operating a tax return preparation business, and from representing customers in connection with any matter before the IRS. Williams was required to notify his customers of the order.
- On Aug. 27, 2020, a federal court in the Western District of Tennessee permanently enjoined Rickey Greer and Stacie Smith (formerly Greer) from acting as federal tax return preparers, assisting in any way in the preparation of federal income tax returns, and representing any person before the IRS. Under the terms of the injunction, the Greers agreed to give up their IRS-assigned preparer identification numbers.
The Tax Division has also sought to strip fraudulent preparers of ill-gotten gains and to hold in contempt those who attempt to flout court-ordered restraints on further fraudulent activity. Over the last year,
- On March 3, 2021, a federal court in the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, enjoined Michelle Jenkins from acting as a return preparer, owning a tax preparation business, or training others in the preparation of tax returns. Jenkins must immediately, permanently close any tax preparation stores she owns, and may not franchise any tax return business to others or her customer lists. Jenkins was ordered to disgorge $25,000 in proceeds from her fraudulent tax preparation. On April 9, 2021, Jenkins’ co-defendants, Ben Philippe, Clebert Philippe, and Reliance 1 Tax Services LLC, were similarly enjoined. Ben Philippe was ordered to disgorge $96,945.10; Clebert Philippe and Reliance 1 Tax Services together were ordered to disgorge $134,633.00.
- On Jan. 27, 2021, a court in the Southern District of Florida permanently enjoined a West Palm Beach return preparer, Lena Cotton, and her business, Professional Accounting LDC, from preparing federal income tax returns for others. The court determined that the defendants were in contempt of several prior orders that had allowed them to prepare returns subject to restrictions and that, in light of previous violations by Cotton and Professional Accounting LDC of the court’s injunctions, “any remedy short of a permanent injunction on return preparation [was] inadequate.”
- On Aug. 5, 2020, a federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois sanctioned Courtney Norwood for contempt for continuing to prepare tax returns in violation of an earlier injunction. He was ordered to pay $91,200 in disgorgement, reflecting the fees he earned for any returns prepared after the injunction was entered.
Criminal convictions obtained by the Tax Division over the last year include:
- On Nov. 13, 2020, Kenneth Crawford Jr. was convicted at trial and sentenced to 78 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the United States, filing false claims, and obstructing the internal revenue laws. According to evidence presented at trial, between 2015 and 2016, Crawford and his co-conspirators promoted and sold a “mortgage recovery” tax fraud scheme that sought fraudulent refunds from the IRS for their clients.
- On Oct. 7, 2020, Terry Williamson was sentenced to 70 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, following his conviction at trial by a federal jury in Las Vegas. The evidence at trial proved that from January 2009 through April 2011, Williamson and his co-conspirators filed false tax returns with the IRS to fraudulently obtain tax refunds using the names and social security numbers of deceased taxpayers.
The Tax Division reminds taxpayers that the IRS has information on its website for choosing a tax preparer, has launched a free directory of federal tax preparers, and offers information on how to avoid “ghost” tax preparers, whose refusal to sign a return should be a red flag to taxpayers. (More information can also be found here.) The IRS also has a list of important reminders for taxpayers who are about to file their 2020 tax returns, including how to prepare for a smooth filing process.
In addition, IRS Free File, a public-private partnership, offers free online tax preparation and filing options on IRS partner websites for individuals whose adjusted gross income is under $72,000. For individuals whose income is over that threshold, IRS Free File offers electronical federal tax forms that can be filled out and filed online for free.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. Hubbert of the Tax Division made the announcement. In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers. Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department’s website. An alphabetical listing of persons enjoined from preparing returns and promoting tax schemes can be found this page. If you believe that one of the enjoined persons or businesses may be violating an injunction, please contact the Tax Division with details.