A federal court in the Southern District of Florida has held a Miami-area tax preparer in contempt for violating a permanent injunction that barred her from preparing, filing or assisting in the preparation or filing of federal tax returns for others.
The United States filed a complaint against Milagros Espinal on Feb. 7, 2011, that alleged that she had prepared returns for customers that claimed deductions for fraudulent medical expenses, charitable contributions and unreimbursed employee business expenses. According to the complaint, an IRS review of returns she prepared uncovered errors in 97% of the returns the agency examined. The parties contemporaneously filed a consent order, in which Espinal agreed to a full bar on return preparation. On Feb. 16, 2011, the court issued a permanent injunction.
On Dec. 29, 2020, the United States filed a motion for an order to show cause, requesting an evidentiary hearing and alleging that Espinal was in contempt. According to the motion, during a deposition in an unrelated civil case, Espinal testified that her profession was “income tax, taxes.” The motion alleged that a subsequent Department of Justice investigation revealed that Espinal had continued to prepare fraudulent returns, that she had never stopped doing so, despite the injunction, and that she continued to act as a “ghost” preparer, and does not sign the returns she prepares. The court granted that motion and held an evidentiary hearing on April 15, 2021.
In holding Espinal in contempt today, the court found that the United States proved by clear and convincing evidence that Espinal continued to prepare returns notwithstanding the injunction. According to the court’s order, Espinal attempted to mask her violations by acting as a “ghost” preparer, meaning that she did not sign the returns she prepared and instead instructed customers to submit the returns to the IRS as though the customers prepared them on their own. The court noted that paid preparers are required to sign the returns they prepare and that failing to do so is a violation of federal law.
The court also found that the returns Espinal filed in violation of the injunction contained numerous fraudulent claims. In particular, the order concludes that Espinal frequently fabricated fuel tax credits and that she included more than $269,095 in fabricated or overstated deductions on the returns she prepared for the customers who testified at the contempt hearing. According to the order, the court will impose a sanction on Espinal on a later date.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. Hubbert of the Justice Department’s Tax Division made the announcement.
Return preparer fraud is one of the IRS’s’ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams and taxpayers seeking a return preparer should remain vigilant. (More information can also be found here.) The IRS has information on its website for choosing a tax preparer, has launched a free directory of federal tax preparers, and offers information on how to avoid “ghost” tax preparers, whose refusal to sign a return should be a red flag to taxpayers.
In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers. Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department’s website. An alphabetical listing of persons enjoined from preparing returns and promoting tax schemes can be found on this page. If you believe that one of the enjoined persons or businesses may be violating an injunction, please contact the Tax Division with details.