Baltimore, Maryland – Tonia Patrice Lawson, age 43, of Middle River, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to obtain fraudulent tax refunds.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Kelly of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Kathryn Jones, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, Washington Regional Office.
“Return preparer fraud is a priority for IRS Criminal Investigation and we are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute cases just like these,” said Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Washington DC Field Office. “Today's plea hearing is a reminder that individuals, like Ms. Lawson, who conspire to prepare fraudulent tax returns, will be brought to justice.”
According to Lawson’s plea agreement, from February 2010 through April 2013, Lawson, who was unemployed, conspired with others to prepare fraudulent tax returns. Specifically, Lawson and others recruited individuals who ordinarily did not meet the threshold to file income tax returns, because they had little or no earned income, and convinced these individuals that they could obtain a substantial refund and therefore should file a federal individual income tax return. Lawson and her co-conspirators used a variety of methods to recruit these individuals, including paying referral fee to those who brought recruits to them. Lawson would collect the recruits’ personal information and provide it to the conspirator who would prepare the fraudulent return. The recruits did not provide any income information. Once the refund from the fraudulent tax return was received, Lawson and the conspirators took a portion of the refund and paid the recruit a smaller amount. The conspirators misled the recruits by telling them that the refunds they had received were smaller than the refund amounts listed on the fraudulent tax returns. At least 15 fraudulently obtained tax refunds were deposited directly into accounts controlled by Lawson, who then wrote checks to the recruits to pay them for their portion of the refund.
Over the course of the scheme, Lawson conspired in the filing of 84 fraudulent tax returns with a resulting loss to the government of $546,785.
Lawson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss caused by the offense, whichever is greater. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled her sentencing for March 27, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised IRS Criminal Investigation and DOT-OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Gregory R. Bockin, who is prosecuting the case.