Five Sentenced for Tax Fraud; Justice Department Gets ITINs Wrong

A Justice Department press release caught my eye. Five individuals, all Mexican nationals residing in the US, were sentenced to ClubFed for terms between 33 months and 121 months. The five individuals had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and they had indeed done so:

Beginning in 2014 and under the direction of Natividad Medina, the defendants conspired to steal money from the U.S. Treasury and U.S. taxpayers by exploiting the ITIN system. The Medina sisters began by collecting Mexican identification documents from unknown people in Mexico and used those to fraudulently obtain ITINs. The Medina sisters then used those ITINs to submit false and fraudulent income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service Center in Austin. They requested that the IRS mail refund checks to residences or to one of more than 200 post office boxes in and around the Houston area which Lopez had rented and maintained on behalf of the Medina sisters.

Kudos to the DOJ and IRS Criminal Investigation for stopping these individuals.

Unfortunately, either the Department of Justice or the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas needs to learn more about Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Here’s what they say about ITINs:

According to court records, in 1996, the Internal Revenue Service began issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or “ITINs”. By obtaining an ITIN, an individual who is already disregarding federal law by living in the United States illegally is given the opportunity to comply with federal law by filing taxes. If the applicant can furnish sufficient proof (i.e. foreign birth certificate, national identification card, passport, etc.) that he or she is living in the United States illegally, the IRS will issue that person an ITIN.

While that’s true, there are other purposes ITINs are used for. If a US citizen is married to a non-American, an ITIN can be issued for the spouse. An ITIN can also be issued for a dependent of a US citizen. A non-citizen who has a US tax filing responsibility (and who is not in the US illegally) will also be issued an ITIN. One would think that the DOJ or US Attorney’s Office might look at an IRS web page (like this one) to see the legitimate reasons why one would obtain an ITIN.

While I was on vacation came the news that ITINs will now expire, with ITINs with middle digits of “78” and “79” expiring this year. While a renewal application (Form W-7) will be available by October 1st, and you won’t need to file a tax return to renew the ITIN, I’ve had lots of problems with the ITIN office (lost applications, lost paperwork, problems even when the Taxpayer Advocate Office handed the paperwork in) that I’m glad it appears none of my clients are in the first group of renewals. If you get the idea that I’m expecting problems, you’re right. But I digress….

In any case, I do say well done to the DOJ for putting these scofflaws behind bars. However, next time read up on why some people who are either visiting the US quite legally or are related to a US citizen really need an ITIN in order for them (or a US citizen) to comply with their US tax filing responsibilities.

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