Georgia Woman Charged In Widespread Tax Fraud Case

CLEVELAND (AP) — A Georgia woman has been charged in an alleged conspiracy that prosecutors said involved her filing fraudulent tax returns for more than 2,700 people referred to her by ministers in Arkansas and Canton, Ohio.

Prosecutors said the conspiracy resulted in $3.9 million in fraudulent tax refunds in 2011.

Zinara Highsmith, 35, of Fayettville, Georgia, was charged in an information with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She will be summoned to appear in federal court in Cleveland, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said. A criminal charge by information generally indicates that a defendant has agreed to plead guilty and to cooperate with prosecutors.

The information does not name the ministers. Highsmith’s public defender did not return telephone calls.

The charges allege that the ministers would ask mostly low-income members of their congregations to provide their names, Social Security numbers and other personal data that would lead to Highsmith filing tax returns on their behalf. The congregants recruited others through word of mouth. The court document said that Highsmith and people working with her would file tax returns that claimed earned income credit and two special credits available in 2010 — a credit for education expenses and one called “Making Work Pay” available to those with an adjusted gross income of less than $95,000.

The returns listed false occupations and wage amounts, did not list any federal tax withholdings and did not include any W-2 wage statements, the information said.

Many of the refunds totaled $1,857, with Highsmith receiving $275, the Arkansas minister $125 and the recruit $1,457, the information said. Highsmith is alleged to have received a total of $500,000.

The information does not say how the Canton minister got involved. The filing said nearly 1,000 northeast Ohioans got refunds totaling $1.7 million.

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