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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Owners Of Tax Preparation Business Indicted On New Charges For Filing Phony Tax Returns For New Jersey Prison Inmates

TRENTON, N.J. – The owners of a tax preparation business that filed fraudulent tax returns on behalf of inmates at various New Jersey prisons were indicted today on additional charges of mail fraud and making claims to the United States for payment of fraudulent tax refunds, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.        

The 20-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury against Kamal J. James, aka “Bro Messiah Aziz El,” of Seaford, Del., and Crystal G. Hawkins, aka “Sis. Crystal Gabri El,” of Laurel, Del., adds 16 counts of making claims to the United States for payment of fraudulent tax refunds, and three counts of mail fraud. The original count of conspiring to defraud the United States, on which the defendants were indicted on Jan. 16, 2014, remains in place.

According to the superseding indictment and other documents filed in court:

Between October 2011 and October 2013, defendants James and Hawkins operated Release Refunds, a purported tax preparation business – previously based in Brick, N.J., and now in Seaford, Del. – through which they solicited current and former New Jersey prison inmates as clients and then filed fraudulent tax returns on their behalf.   

To execute the scheme, James and Hawkins sent Release Refunds “promotional” flyers to inmates at various New Jersey prisons and halfway houses offering tax return preparation services. The pair asked inmates interested in Release Refunds’ services to provide basic identification information and to sign income tax returns and other IRS documents, but not to include any information about their income or withholdings. James and Hawkins then filled in the missing income information on the return forms, fabricating the inmates’ earnings to trigger fraudulent and inflated refunds.

During the course of the investigation, an undercover IRS-Criminal Investigation agent posing as an inmate in a New Jersey prison submitted a completed Release Refunds form and sent it to James and Hawkins. They then sent the “inmate” blank income tax forms and other IRS documents and instructions to sign the documents. James and Hawkins did not request any financial information from the undercover agent before preparing three fraudulent tax returns – including false income information that James and Hawkins provided – to be filed on behalf of the agent for tax years 2010 through 2012. The fraudulent returns resulted in several thousand dollars in refunds and a $1,485 fee for the defendants.

The conspiracy count carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison. The fraudulent claims counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and the mail fraud counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. The defendants also face a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of the gain or loss from the offense for each count of conviction.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen, with the investigation leading to today’s charges. He also thanked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the N.J. Department of Corrections for their roles in the case.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas P. Grippo of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Trenton and Trial Attorney Tino Lisella of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

The charges and allegations contained in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defense counsel:
James: Pro se; (Bruce Throckmorton Esq., Trenton, standby counsel)
Hawkins: Pro se; (Andrea Bergman Esq. Assistant Federal Public Defender, Trenton, standby counsel)

Updated March 18, 2015