Yet Another Reason Why Requiring Tax Professionals to Obtain a License Won’t Stop Tax Professionals from Behaving Badly

In California, everyone who prepares a tax return for money must have a license. Individuals must either be an Enrolled Agent, a CPA, an attorney, or obtain a license from the California Tax Education Council. Of course, that means that no California tax professional would commit tax fraud, right?

Of course not. Where there’s money involved there will always be people trying to obtain that money fraudulently. That’s the case whether you need no license, one license, or 100 licenses to prepare a tax return. Take the case of Melissa Ann Vega (aka Lisa Vega).

Ms. Vega owned L&T Works, a tax preparation firm in San Diego. Last year, stories in San Diego media describe deductions that were $3,000 that became $31,000. The IRS raided the facility in April 2014.

Come January 2015, Ms. Vega was arrested and released on bond. What she then did has gotten her a coveted nomination for Tax Offender of the Year:

Vega was released on bond in this case on January 28, 2015. Although the court informed her not to commit another federal crime, Vega once again began filing false tax returns with the IRS within days of her release. Without the clients’ knowledge, Vega fraudulently inflated or created credits and deductions to maximize her clients’ false returns. The IRS uncovered her fraud, and Vega was arrested on February 25, 2015. In furtherance of her conspiracy, Vega agreed with Deanna Dave (charged in Criminal Case No. 15CR2715-JM) to misrepresent to the grand jury that Dave was the owner and paid-return preparer for the tax returns filed in February 2015. In truth, Vega continued as the owner of her tax preparation business and prepared the false tax returns which she filed for her clients. On November 17, 2015, Dave pleaded guilty to making a false declaration before the grand jury, and her sentencing is scheduled for February 5, 2016 before Judge Miller.

As for her initial crimes, these are detailed in the DOJ press release:

Vega told her co-conspirators and employees that they should maximize clients’ refunds by filing for a $4,000 education credit, even though the client did not attend school for that tax year. To conceal her role in the fraud, Vega intentionally omitted her name and tax return preparer identification number on the false tax returns she prepared for her clients. In total, Vega’s fraud caused the IRS to pay more than $7 million in artificially-inflated tax refunds based solely on the false education credits. Moreover, Vega admitted that she and her co-conspirators stole the identities of other persons, including minors, and used them on the false tax returns in order to further inflate the amount of the tax refund paid by the IRS.

Vega did not shy away from personally profiting from her fraudulent scheme. In addition to charging her clients between $150 and $200 per return, Vega also admitted that she stole more than $300,000 in false tax refunds from her clients by directing their refunds into bank accounts that she controlled. Vega spent this money for her own personal benefit. Vega also admitted that she evaded her own income taxes and filed false personal tax returns in which she fraudulently claimed withholding credits, education credits, and tax credits for minor dependents that she did not support and were not related to her. According to court documents, Vega evaded more than $156,000 in taxes due to the IRS for tax years 2009 through 2013.

As noted above, Ms. Vega was in California; she needed a license to prepare tax returns. That included annual continuing education in ethics. She apparently missed that, along with the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Given she prepared more than 4,000 false tax returns with the IRS (and presumably an equal number of false returns with California’s Franchise Tax Board) in attempting to obtain more than $7 million in phony refunds, she’s likely heading to ClubFed.

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