A mother and daughter from St. Charles Parish have pleaded guilty to filing more than $1.8 million in bogus tax claims for unsuspecting clients and using the money to support a gambling habit, according to documents filed in federal court in New Orleans.
Cathy Vinnett, 46, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, while her daughter Lashanda Vinnett, 29, pleaded guilty to the same charge Friday, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a news release. Both women live in Destrehan.
According to a court document known as a factual basis, the Vinnetts opened River Parish Tax Professionals in December 2008. From then until June 2009, they allegedly filed about 300 fraudulent income tax returns claiming the first-time homebuyer credit and the earned income tax credit, as well as listing phony dependents, resulting in about $1.84 million in false claims. The money was to be deposited into a bank account they controlled.
The homebuyer credit was a refundable tax credit of up to $7,500 available to some homebuyers between April 2008 and December 2009. The claims that the Vinnetts are accused of filing were bogus because their clients did not buy a home during that time and did not qualify for the credit.
The business, which was in LaPlace, relied on recruiters to lure clients. The recruiters advised potential clients that the federal government was giving out stimulus money and instructed the individuals to visit River Parish Tax Professionals to obtain their money. The Vinnetts would then interview the clients to obtain their personal information and use that information to file the tax returns without the clients’ knowledge, according to the indictment.
The plea also states that Cathy Vinnett worked to hide her identity with the IRS by using someone else’s electronic filing identification number because hers had been suspended after an earlier tax fraud scheme.
When confronted about the allegations by federal agents in May 2009, Cathy Vinnett claimed not to know about the false tax returns and said she did not own the business.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle is scheduled to sentence Lashanda Vinnett on Sept. 17 and Cathy Vinnett on Oct. 1. They each face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a requirement to pay restitution.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.