Investigations uncover $1.4 million in tax fraud, yield multiple arrests

BATON ROUGE – Four separate investigations by the Louisiana Department of Revenue and the state Office of the Attorney General resulted in eight arrests in the month of July for felony tax fraud and uncovered more than $1.4 million in fraudulent refunds and improperly reduced tax liabilities.

“These arrests demonstrate the progress we are making in attacking fraud in Louisiana through our partnership with the Attorney General’s office,” Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield said. “If these criminals thought of tax fraud as a low-risk, high-reward activity, they’re finding out they were wrong.”

“Tax fraud is not a victimless crime,” Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said.  “When a person cheats on their taxes, it puts the most vital services for our citizens at risk.”

Arrests

Elxzina Granger, of 311 Doc Duhon Street in Lafayette, was arrested on July 16, 2014, and charged with 13 counts each of computer fraud and filing or maintaining false public records. Granger, a tax preparer, allegedly fabricated business losses on federal and Louisiana state income tax returns for the 2012 tax year. Clients of Granger’s contacted by investigators said they did not own businesses, and had not provided her with any business-related documentation for their tax filings. Granger’s alleged crime resulted in $45,982 in fraudulent income tax refunds.

In a separate case, tax preparers working for We Care Tax Service at 3101 New Highway 51 in LaPlace are suspected of fabricating business losses for clients. Investigators determined that none of those clients owned a business. The alleged fraud in this case amounts to $1,175,541.

Five tax preparers at We Care Tax Service have been arrested and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison:

  • Sara Daspit-Lee, of 125 Oak Ridge Drive in LaPlace, arrested on July 22 and charged with nine counts of filing or maintaining false public records and nine counts of computer fraud
  • Emile Lee III, of 125 Oak Ridge Drive in LaPlace, arrested on July 22 and charged with nine counts of filing or maintaining false public records and nine counts of computer fraud
  • Johnnae Smith, of 107 4th Street in Chalmette, arrested on July 30 and charged with 11 counts each of computer fraud and filing or maintaining false public records
  • Bridget Butler, of 2229 Feliciana Street in New Orleans, arrested on July 30 and charged with nine counts each of computer fraud and filing or maintaining false public records
  • Delecisha Amos-Allen, of 19 Rush Drive in LaPlace, arrested on July 30 and charged with five counts each of computer fraud and filing or maintaining false public records

On Friday, July 25, investigators arrested Ashley Clement, of 2316 Ormond Boulevard in Destrehan, and booked her into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. She faces felony charges of fabricating business losses on her own Louisiana individual income tax return. Clement received $2,287 in fraudulent refunds. An additional $4,397 in attempted fraudulent refunds was blocked by the Department of Revenue’s Tax Refund Intercept Program (TRIP). Clement faces one count of theft and one count of attempted theft.

And in a fourth case, Deatrice Garrison Minor, of 1516 Westminster Boulevard in Marrero, was arrested on July 30 and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on six felony counts related to tax fraud. Minor is accused of submitting fraudulent income tax returns on behalf of clients of her business, Divine Vision Boutique & Tax Service, with addresses listed in Lafayette, Gretna and Marrero. Investigators say that along with the improper returns, Minor submitted false W-2 withholding forms with inflated wages and withholding amounts. The clients told investigators that they had never been employed by the individuals and entities listed on the documents, and that they had never given Minor permission to file income tax returns on their behalf. Minor faces one count of injury to public records, one count of illegal transmission of monetary funds, one count of principal to theft, one count of theft, and two counts of attempted theft. The alleged fraud in this case amounts to $36,986 in theft and $136,324 in attempted theft.

Booking Photos

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Office of Debt Recovery to be fully operational within three years

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Office of Debt Recovery (ODR) is on schedule to be fully operational within three years, Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield reported to the state Cash Management Review Board on Thursday.

ODR will be a highly automated, efficient, and centralized debt collection office that provides collection services for state agencies. It will include a suite of debt collection tools and will work with the Office of the Attorney General and outside collection agencies to perform collection services.

ODR was created by the Louisiana Legislature to assist state agencies in collecting overdue debts determined to be “final debt” after exhausting all administrative and legal due process. Housed in the Louisiana Department of Revenue, ODR will use new tools to identify and collect final debt payments on behalf of those agencies.

Implementation is progressing quickly, largely using LDR’s existing human and budgetary resources. “Looking at the states with state-of-the-art centralized collection operations, this implementation will be completed at least 25% and as much as 50% faster,” Barfield said.

“ODR has already implemented its electronic debt registry, significantly expanded use of an existing collection tool, implemented two new collection tools and has begun collecting debts,” Deputy Secretary of Revenue Jarrod Coniglio said.

Collection tools already in use by ODR include LDR’s state tax refund offset; financial institution data match (FIDM) that allows it to identify and levy final debt payments from the bank accounts of debtors who have exhausted their due process; and a federal vendor payment intercept program that allows ODR to collect final debt from payments owed to companies doing business with the federal government who have exhausted their due process.

Already, 281 of 340 (82%) financial institutions have signed up for participation in the FIDM program, which are estimated to cover over 90% of deposit accounts in the state.

A request for proposals (RFP) for the automated collection system is currently being developed. “Today, we’re working with manual processes, but will issue an RFP in mid-August to develop a fully automated case management system,” Coniglio said. “The automated system will be fully scalable, and will allow ODR to increase its workload with a minimum of additional human resources.”

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Bossier Parish tax preparer arrested on fraud charges

BATON ROUGE – A Bossier Parish tax preparer faces felony charges related to tax fraud, the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) announced Wednesday.

Marie Kemp, known also as Marie Devers, of 430 Kingston Road in Benton, was arrested in Bossier City on April 3, 2014, and transported to Baton Rouge on April 7, where she was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Kemp is the 16th person arrested under a joint anti-fraud initiative by the Department of Revenue and the Louisiana Department of Justice (DOJ). She faces 21 counts of identity theft, computer fraud, and filing or maintaining false public records.

Kemp is accused of falsifying tax returns filed through Marie’s Tax Service, a tax preparation business with two locations in Bossier City. She allegedly inflated income tax refunds for her clients by improperly claiming the state’s Child Care Expense Tax Credit. Investigators contacted the providers listed on the falsified returns, who denied providing the services.

“The abuse of state tax credits is fraud,” Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield said. “This anti-fraud initiative helps to ensure valuable programs such as the Child Care Expense Tax Credit remain available for those who need them.”

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Louisiana tax amnesty program reaches $200 million goal

BATON ROUGE – The 2013 Louisiana Tax Amnesty program that concluded on Friday has reached its goal of $200 million in collections.

“Based on applications and payments processed as of this morning, we have met the $200 million goal included in the budget for fiscal year 2014,” Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield said Monday. “We expect that number to grow as we receive and process applications and payments submitted in the final days and hours of the amnesty program.”

LA Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start offered noncompliant taxpayers an opportunity to settle their accounts with the state by paying all taxes due, with a waiver of all penalties and 50 percent of the interest. Eligible taxpayers could apply for amnesty online, by mail, or in person at Department of Revenue offices. Applications submitted by mail are valid as long as they were postmarked no later than Friday, November 22. As those applications and payments are received and processed, the amnesty total is expected to increase.

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Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield unveils LA Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start

Barfield_BRPressClub1

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield unveiled on Monday details of a two-month tax amnesty program for individual and business taxpayers who have fallen behind on their tax debts.

LA Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start will run from September 23 through November 22. It offers delinquent taxpayers and non-filers the chance to bring their accounts up to date by paying all overdue taxes, with a waiver of all penalties and 50 percent of the interest owed.

“Many times, people get behind and don’t know where to start,” Barfield said during a presentation to the Baton Rouge Press Club. “The goal here is to make it as easy as possible.  Let’s help them right the ship.”

Amnesty is available for the following taxes and tax periods:

  • All taxes administered by the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) except for motor fuel taxes and penalties for failure to submit information reports that are not based on an underpayment of tax
  • Taxes due prior to January 1, 2013, for which LDR has issued an individual or business proposed assessment, notice of assessment bill, notice, or demand of payment not later than May 21, 2013
  • Taxes for taxable periods that began before January 1, 2013.

The Fresh Start program is available to taxpayers who have:

  • Failed to file a tax return or report
  • Failed to report all income or all tax, interested and penalties that were due
  • Claimed incorrect credits or deductions
  • Misrepresented or omitted an tax due
  • Become subject to audit, or are in administrative or judicial litigation

Taxpayers involved in criminal investigation or criminal litigation for taxes administered by LDR are not eligible for the Fresh Start program.

Once the program begins on September 23, taxpayers will be able to submit amnesty applications electronically at www.LDRTaxAmnesty.com. The average time to complete an application is five minutes.

“We have gone to great lengths to make this a user-friendly application,” Barfield said. “We’ve already had thousands of people visit the website, which is a great sign.”

***

Visit the LDR Flickr page for more downloadable photos from Secretary Barfield’s appearance at the Baton Rouge Press Club.

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Secretary of Revenue to conduct statewide tour promoting LA Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield will travel the state to speak with local communities about a tax amnesty program to run from September 23 through November 22.

LA Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start offers delinquent taxpayers and non-filers a chance to settle their accounts by paying all taxes due, with an exemption from all penalties and 50 percent of the interest.

“We are looking forward to connecting with hundreds of taxpayers as we prepare to launch the Fresh Start program,” Barfield said.  “This will be the opportunity needed by many people to clear their account with the Department of Revenue, and we want to help them in any way possible.”

Visit www.ldrtaxamnesty.com for more information.

Dates and Locations

Date Time Location
September 9

 

11:30 a.m. Baton Rouge Press Club

De La Ronde Hall

320 Third Street

Baton Rouge, LA 70802

September 10 10:00 a.m. Monroe City Council Chambers

Monroe City Hall

400 Lea Joyner Medical Expressway

Monroe, LA 71201

September 10 1:00 p.m. Bossier Civic Center

620 Benton Road

Bossier City, LA 71111

September 18 11:00 a.m. Alexandria Convention Hall

915 Third Street

Alexandria, LA 71301

September 19 10:00 a.m. Lafayette Public Library – South Regional Branch

6101 Johnston Street

Lafayette, LA 70503

September 19 2:00 p.m. Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Room

1015 Pithon Street

Lake Charles, LA 70601

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LDR News Release – AG and LDR Crack Down on Tax Fraud

BATON ROUGE – By the time the Taxpayer Refund Intercept Program (TRIP) singled out yet another tax return prepared by Innovative Professional Financial Services, Inc. (or IP Financial Services), a distinct pattern began to emerge. The Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) uses the TRIP program to monitor and carefully analyze tax returns as they are processed through their system. Unusually large refunds were rising to the top from returns prepared by IP Financial Services. Taxpayers who had their tax returns prepared by this firm were contacted by LDR to verify their income, taxes paid, and taxes withheld. The results confirmed the suspicion. Numerous discrepancies were identified, and a scam was discovered.

IP Financial Services president John Labee promised taxpayers that he was capable of finding new tax credits and write-offs that would greatly reduce a taxpayer’s liability and increase their refund. For the average cost of $500, he advertised he could discover hidden deductions and raise refund amounts in ways other preparers could not. Many taxpayers believed him – to their loss.

Labee created fake W-2 forms that reported false wages and payments to LDR that were never made. He overstated tax withholdings and falsified documents in an attempt to trick the computer system with such an elaborate process that taxpayers were unaware of his tactics. By claiming deductions not permitted by both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and LDR, the refunds he tabulated and transmitted to LDR were ultimately found to be merely a ploy against his customers who were the ones that were forced to reconcile the amount they actually owed LDR with the amount Labee said they were owed by LDR.

When contacted by angry taxpayers regarding the discrepancies on their returns, Labee provided them with checks written to LDR with which to pay their tax liabilities. 52 of those checks were returned for nonsufficient funds (NSF). Labee was arrested in September 2011 and charged with Filing and Maintaining False Public Records (La. R.S. 14:133) and Issuing Worthless Checks (La. R.S. 14:71). He pleaded guilty on August 19 in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge to six felony counts of issuing worthless checks.  He was ordered to pay $82,000 in restitution and faces a maximum 60 years in prison.  The sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 17, 2013.

Additional charges from federal prosecutors are pending against Labee, including 9 counts of aiding or assisting in preparation of false documents; 2 counts of making false statements on income tax returns; 1 count of attempted mail fraud; and 1 count of making false declarations before a grand jury.

A New Focus on Fraud

When this case came to the attention of Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield, he began to work with LDR’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID) for ways to combat this type of fraud. Data revealed that an increase in the number of tax preparers completing fraudulent returns on behalf of taxpayers was on the rise. A shift in focus was ordered that would target tax preparers who opened businesses only to illegally profit from the trust of taxpayers.

In partnership with the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, in March 2013, LDR officials detailed two commissioned criminal investigators to the LDR staff. These law enforcement officers are housed in the Louisiana Department of Justice (DOJ) and work with DOJ staff.

“This addition to our staff and our partnership with the Attorney General’s office has strengthened one of the core competencies of our department,” LDR Secretary Tim Barfield said. “We are charged by the taxpayers of this state to protect their interests and focus on tax fraud and similar issues. The investment in these law enforcement personnel is already paying off.

Last week, six other tax preparers were arrested on charges ranging from filing false public records to fraud:

  • LaKindra Williams – 143 E. Holly Street, Baton Rouge
  • Chandris Ferguson – 12457 Lockhaven Avenue, Baton Rouge
  • Duane Dufrene – 22 Parlange Drive, Destrehan
  • Leroi Jackson – 10909 Vienna Street, New Orleans
  • Edris Ferguson – 12171 Canterbury Park Drive, Geismar
  • Maletica Ferguson – 5155 Waterton Drive, Lithonia, GA

“Louisiana will not tolerate fraud, whether committed by pharmaceutical companies or by fraudulent tax return preparers who are stealing from their clients and from the state. We are committed to partnering with the Department of Revenue and other state agencies to track down these lawbreakers and recover the state’s funds,” stated Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

Secretary Barfield intends to strengthen and dedicate more personnel and resources to fraud detection that will ultimately provide direct benefit to Louisiana taxpayers.

“The widespread abuse by tax preparers should serve as a warning to taxpayers across the state,” Barfield said. “Do not trust someone who promises something that sounds too good to be true. Make sure you have done your homework on who prepares your tax returns.”

Barry Kelly, LDR’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID) director, plans to expand the scope of future investigations.  “There will be more arrests as we continue to aggressively move forward,” Kelly said. “We hope to discover everyone who commits tax fraud – especially those who put themselves forward as servants of the public trust. This is our stewardship to the people of Louisiana, and we will do it well.”

How to Select a Tax Preparer:

If you are going to pay someone to do your tax return, be sure to choose your tax preparer wisely. Remember that you are legally responsible for what is on your tax returns even if they are prepared by someone else. So, it is important to find a qualified tax professional.

Be sure to:

  1. Choose a preparer who will be available to answer questions after the return has been filed.
  2. Find out what the preparer’s service fees are before the return is prepared.
  3. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund or who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers without first reviewing your returns.
  4. Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.
  5. Before signing your return, carefully review it and ask questions.
  6. Ask any tax preparer for references.
  7. Check to see if the tax preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs or the state’s bar association.
  8. Check to see if the tax preparer belongs to a professional organization that requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
  9. Check to see if the tax preparer has a proper Preparer Tax Identification Number (“PTIN”) from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), which is required to file federal tax returns.
  10. Check to see if the IRS has not obtained a permanent injunction prohibiting the tax preparer from preparing federal tax returns.
  11. Always question entries on your return that you do not understand. Never sign a blank return.
  12. Insist that the tax preparer sign the return and provide appropriate taxpayer information on the return.

Traits of a reputable preparer:

  1. They ask multiple questions to determine whether expenses, deductions and other items qualify as legitimate tax deductions.
  2. They remind clients they should keep careful and complete records in order to substantiate information contained on their tax return.
  3. They provide their clients with a copy of their completed return for their records.
  4. They respond to contacts made by their clients in a reasonable period of time.

 

 

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LDR’s Tim Barfield: PAR analysis of tax reform based on flawed assumptions

BATON ROUGE – PAR’s assumptions are erroneous. I have met with the members of PAR and shared with them the core data of this plan. PAR’s analysis does not take into account all the data used by the Louisiana Department of Revenue. We have always maintained that we used 2011 Fiscal Year data as a starting point for our analysis, but we have not stopped there. A standard approach to estimate the future is to begin with the best data as of today. This we have done, but only as the starting point. The Legislative Fiscal Office and other economic experts agree with our methodology. Our revenue projections will extend to FY 2014-2015 and will be revenue neutral. Again, we have shared our data and methodology with PAR on multiple occasions, and we will continue to do so throughout this process.

Tim Barfield
Executive Counsel
Louisiana Department of Revenue

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Statement from LDR Executive Counsel Tim Barfield on ITEP study and job creation

BATON ROUGE – It is ironic that ITEP – a liberal special interest group – launched an attack on the same day the Wall Street Journal editorialized in support of our proposal as well as other states who are seeking to eliminate income taxes. We have a fundamental philosophical disagreement with ITEP about how to help the poor and improve job opportunities for all Louisianans. Contrary to ITEP’s definition of fairness, we believe that the less money the government takes from people’s incomes, the better.

The best way to alleviate poverty is to create jobs, and the way to create jobs is by structuring a tax code that is fairer and simpler so that Louisiana can continue to foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create job opportunities for all of Louisiana’s citizens. Study after study has shown that companies move to places where taxes are lower, and job creation is the only sustainable way to combat systemic poverty.

There are progressive measures in the current tax code to help low-income groups, which we will retain in our final proposal. Sales tax exemptions are currently protected by the Louisiana Constitution and will remain so. The basic necessities of life – groceries, prescription medicine, and residential utilities – will remain sales-tax free. The proposal will also include some form of an Earned Income Tax Credit to offset any additional sales tax burden that might impact low-income Louisianans.

ITEP ignores an inconvenient truth: the states without a personal income tax – four of which are named in ITEP’s “Terrible Ten” list – helped create the most jobs in America over the last decade.

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Tim Barfield Discusses Tax Reform

LDR Executive Counsel Tim Barfield met with the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on December 12, 2012, to discuss reforming Louisiana’s tax code.

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