Op-Ed: DOJ on the hunt for tax fraudsters

Scammers seeking fraudulent federal tax refunds based on stolen identities are a “rising threat” in the United States, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned taxpayers.

In an extraordinary public statement about his concerns, Holder described these scammers as an “increasingly urgent problem.”

Throughout the country, federal prosecutors have pursued aggressively criminals who steal identities and then claim fraudulent tax refunds, leaving unsuspecting Americans in the middle of tangled webs of stolen identities and fraudulent tax refunds.

In Memphis, Tenn., for example, two women filed hundreds of false returns using identifying information of deceased individuals, including Social Security numbers. Nakita Brooks, 31, and Cheryl Wright, 30, are estimated to have cost taxpayers $1 million to $2.5 million.

They were shameless in how they tried to cover up their crime as well. They set up tax return services using stolen identities and put these names down as the people who prepared the fraudulent returns. Among the people whose identities were stolen in this way was a 9-year-old girl from Indiana.

Brooks and Wright face up to 10 years for their crimes.

While their crime was despicable, and somewhat shocking given that a 9-year-old’s identity was stolen, federal prosecutors aren’t focused only on headline-grabbing examples of tax fraud. They’re also focused on cases in which average taxpayers cheat on their taxes.

“These cases affirm that the Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting all types of tax fraud,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division Kathryn Keneally.

There are many examples of the type Keneally is describing.

In Conyers, Ga., Kenneth and Kimberly Horner were charged with four counts of filing false personal and corporate tax returns for the years 2007 and 2008. The Horners, who owned and operated Topcat Towing and Recovery, underreported gross receipts and total income on their corporate and personal tax returns, according to the government’s indictment.

Across the country, an Oregon man who’d recently moved from Wisconsin pleaded guilty to three counts of willfully failing to file income tax returns for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Eric T. Plantenberg, 42, of Bend, Ore., admitted that he made $1.3 million in unreported income between 2005 and 2008. Plantenberg had been the owner of three Wisconsin companies — Freedom Personal Development, Freedom Professional Services and I-Kinetic.

The Obama Justice Department has long been tough on tax crimes. These most recent comments suggest prosecutors will get tougher.

Martin Ferreira is a member of the American Society of IRS Problem Solvers and an Enrolled Agent permitted to represent clients before the IRS in all 50 states.

Contact him at 645-5254 to obtain a free subscription to his newsletter titled The IRS Times & Inquirer.