A Kent tax preparer was indicted and a Pierce County woman pleaded guilty Friday in separate tax-fraud cases, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Both claimed tax refunds in other people’s names, netting nearly $400,000, authorities said.
Ryan Lanh Yann, 60, appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle on 10 counts of wire fraud, four counts of false, fictitious or fraudulent claims and two counts of aggravated identity theft, according to court documents.
Yann would claim a refund amount greater than shown on returns he provided to his customers and then keep the excess refund for himself, says the indictment filed in U.S. District Court.
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In this way, Yann illegally collected more than $300,000 between 2009 and 2012, the indictment says.
Yann would provide his clients, many of whom were immigrants not familiar with the U.S. tax system and without strong English skills, with one version of their tax return, while filing a different version with the Internal Revenue Service.
Wire fraud is punishable by as many as 20 years in prison, aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory minimum two-year prison term, and making false or fictitious claims carries a prison term of as many as five years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Barbara Holly Stahlman, 42, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. She was indicted in February 2013 for fraudulently claiming tax refunds using other people’s personal information, which netted her more than $95,000.
She also used the tax-identification numbers of different companies to claim employment and withheld wages, even though she wasn’t employed at those companies. Between 2010 and 2013 she submitted 108 false tax returns, and 44 were accepted by the IRS.
When Stahlman is sentenced in July, she faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for the aggravated identity-theft charge.
Multiple agencies have prioritized investigating and prosecuting cases of tax-refund fraud, which is a growing national concern, officials said.
Tax-refund fraud affected as many as 1.5 million people last year, IRS Special Agent Kenneth Hines said Thursday, less than a week before the tax-filing deadline of April 15. Someone can manipulate a tax return with only a name and a Social Security number, he said.
“If you’re filing 100, but only 10 percent get through, that’s still as much as $100,000 … just by sitting at your computer,” Hines said.
Personal information can be obtained through multiple methods, Hines said. Last month, the Archdiocese of Seattle sent letters to more than 90,000 people warning about a database breach that might make them vulnerable to identity theft. At least 1,000 people may have been affected.
The recent events emphasize the need for individuals, not just organizations, to further safeguard their information, Hines said.
“You have to protect your data,” Hines said. “You don’t leave your wallet in your front yard.”
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