JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville woman has been sentenced for participating in a nationwide tax return scam involving church pastors.
Ann Marie Howard Aguiar, 47, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison after she helped file thousands of false tax returns seeking refunds that totaled to more than $9 million.
The scheme was organized by a man out of New Hampshire in 2011 named Craig Cudhea.
Cudhea recruited pastors from eight states-- Virginia, New York, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio and Nevada.
They called themselves the angels -- eight women recruited from all over America, working on a million-dollar scheme to solicit names, birth dates and Social Security numbers from members of their congregation.
The pastors were all under the impression that Cudhea would help provide government stimulus funds to help the unemployed, disabled and impoverished.
Special Agent Amy Hosney said in fiscal year 2013 the IRS initiated 1,492 identity theft related criminal investigations, an increase of 66 percent since 2012.
"He instructed the angels on what should be reported on the false tax returns as far as income amounts, withholding, expenses such as child care credits and education. And they went ahead and prepared and filed the returns to the IRS and ultimately refunds were issued for some of the returns that were filed," Hosney said.
Melissa Lee, who is also a special agent for IRS criminal investigation, informed News4Jax that there are ways you can prevent falling victim to stolen identity fraud.
"It's an extra layer of protection for you when filing your return," Lee said. "So it will be much more difficult for someone to take your identity and file a return on your behalf -- fraudulent return. They need that number to put into the system before a return can be filed with your social security number and name."
Beginning this year, Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia put a program in place where anyone who filed a tax return last year can request a six-digit identity protection pin through the IRS.
After Craig Cudhea found out he was being prosecuted, he committed suicide. ?