Prison inmates charged with tax fraud; collected $400K in tax refunds

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Two inmates at the Minnesota state prison in Faribault have been charged with filing false tax claims to the Internal Revenue Service and collecting $400,000 in fraudulent tax refunds while they were incarcerated, WCCO reports.

The U.S. Attorney's office announced that Tony Robinson, 30, of Bayport, and Tanka Tetzlaff, 39, of Duluth, were each charged in federal court Tuesday with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and 10 counts each of making false claims. A grand jury indicted them on the charges last week.

According to the indictment, from October 2009 to September 2010, Robinson and Tetzlaff recruited other inmates at the prison to file false tax returns and illegally claim refunds. The prisoners used their own names and social security numbers, but they used false wage and federal income tax withholding information.

They received tax refunds from the IRS that were mailed as checks, direct deposited into bank accounts controlled by the co-conspirators, or deposited onto debit cards.

Three female accomplices who were not in prison cashed some of the checks for the inmates using Power of Attorney documents signed by the inmates. Those three -- Carmen Allen, Vanessa Walberg and Deeanna Crist -- each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Other tax fraud cases prosecuted recently in Minnesota have focused on suspects stealing the identities of others to file false returns under their names.

In one such case, a Minnesota woman was convicted in May of filing false returns using the personal information of 18 people. She collected nearly $90,000 in false tax refunds. Hannah Caroline Bassett was sentenced in May to 24 months in prison.

St. Paul’s IRS Criminal Investigation field office said in a statement earlier this year that the agency has made refund fraud and identity theft “a top priority.”

“Filing fraudulent tax returns in the names of other individuals results in significant harm to those individuals whose identities were stolen, as well as a monetary loss against the U.S. Treasury,” an IRS spokeswoman said in announcing Bassett's sentence.

The IRS has information here on how to protect yourself from identity theft and related tax fraud.

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