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Press Release

Columbus Tax Preparers Sentenced

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia

United States Attorney G. F. “Pete” Peterman, III, today announced the impositions of sentences on two former Columbus tax preparers for obtaining stolen identity information and filing fraudulent income tax returns. The sentences were handed down in Columbus, Georgia, by the Honorable Clay D. Land, Chief United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia.

Michelle Simmons, 36, of Columbus, Georgia, was sentenced on June 21, 2016, to serve 51 months in prison. Larae Townsend, 35, also of Columbus, was sentenced on June 27, 2016 to serve 75 months’ imprisonment. They are jointly ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $419,139 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Ms. Simmons and Ms. Townsend entered guilty pleas to the charges on February 2, 2016. Evidence showed that Ms. Simmons worked for Gattison & Associates, a tax preparation business in Columbus with Danielle Wallace. Beginning tax year 2011 and continuing through tax year 2014, Ms. Townsend supplied Ms. Simmons and Ms. Wallace with stolen identity information, including names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth. At least 557 fraudulent tax returns were filed using the stolen information. As a result, over $400,000 in illegally obtained tax refunds from the IRS were issued. Ms. Wallace was sentenced to 65 months in prison on July 28, 2015.

“Identity theft continues to be an ongoing problem in the United States,” stated Veronica Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “Michelle Simmons, Larae Townsend, and Danielle Wallace stole our identities, stole government money and preyed upon innocent citizens. Our agents are determined to keep up the fight to eradicate identity theft and to protect honest taxpayers.”

“The years to be served in prison, without parole under federal law, constitute a fit punishment for the fraud and theft committed by these defendants and will hopefully serve as a warning to others who might be tempted to try to do the same. These women defrauded not only the individual taxpayers whose identities they stole, but the people and government of the United States, whose money they stole,” said United States Attorney Pete Peterman.

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melvin E. Hyde, Jr prosecuted the case for the government.

Questions concerning this case should be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603.

Updated June 27, 2016

Identity Theft