Masood Chotani, a CPA and tax return preparer from Los Angeles County, Calif., pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced.
On June 23, 2010, Chotani was indicted by a federal grand jury in Riverside, Calif., on charges of engaging in a scheme to file false returns with the IRS using the names and Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.
According to the indictment and the plea agreement, in 2002 and 2003, Chotani misappropriated employer identification information from his client files and provided the information to his co-conspirator, Haroon Amin. Amin and another co-conspirator, Ather Ali, used the stolen employer data, as well as deceased people’s Social Security numbers and other identification information obtained from the Internet, to prepare and file fraudulent returns. These returns had fictitious Form W-2 wage and tax statements as attachments, falsely stating that the deceased people earned wages from those employers from which income tax had been withheld.
Chotani admitted that he was a knowing participant in this scheme. He also admitted filing similar false returns himself, in his parents’ names, also using employer identification information misappropriated from his files.
According to documents filed in two related cases, the scheme resulted in the filing of over 250 false returns claiming an aggregate of more than $2 million in income tax refunds. Although the IRS rejected the bulk of these refund claims, a number of refund checks were issued and delivered to addresses controlled by Amin, Ali, and their co-conspirators. Most of these refund checks then were delivered overseas to be deposited in bank accounts in Armenia and Pakistan.
Amin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States on Jan. 25, 2010, and is serving a 30-month prison term. Ali subsequently pleaded guilty to the same crime on Feb. 12, 2010, and is serving a 37-month prison term.
Judge S. James Otero scheduled Chotani’s sentencing for April 22, 2013. Chotani faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. In addition, under the plea agreement, Chotani has agreed to pay restitution to the IRS for the losses arising from the tax fraud scheme.
Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division, commended the efforts of agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Laguna Niguel, Calif., as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Pell and Tax Division Trial Attorneys Joseph A. Rillotta and Ignacio Perez de la Cruz, who are prosecuting the case.
More information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts is available at www.usdoj.gov/tax .