The government said Tuesday it is trying to shut down more than 125 Jackson Hewitt tax preparation stores in four states for systematic “tax-fraud schemes.”
The Justice Department accuses the franchises of bilking the government out of more than $70 million through fraudulent practices such as using phony W-2 forms, bogus deductions and fuel tax credits and false claims regarding the earned income tax credit.
Jackson Hewitt Tax Services Inc., with more than 6,500 franchises, is the nation’s second-largest tax preparer after H&R Block Inc. The franchises were either totally or partially owned by Farrukh Sohail, the Justice Department said, and involved “a pervasive and massive series of tax-fraud schemes,” according to court filings.
Ron Brunson, Sohail’s Birmingham, Ala.-based attorney, said his client would not voluntarily stop preparing tax returns at the Jackson Hewitt franchises but was “hoping to work things out” with the Justice Department and IRS.
Sohail and other defendants “created, directed, fostered, and maintained a business environment” at the Jackson Hewitt franchises “in which fraudulent tax return preparation is encouraged and flourishes,” according to court documents.
Employees allegedly were encouraged to ignore telltale signs of fraudulent information and to file claims even when it was obvious customers were using fake W-2 forms or false deductions.
A sample of returns prepared by franchises connected to Sohail found 31 percent contained false information such as phony earned income tax credit claims, bogus deductions and fraudulent W-2 forms, the government said.
The suits, filed in federal courts in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Raleigh, N.C., also allege that managers and employees at the Jackson Hewitt franchises took kickbacks for filing fraudulent returns.
Managers at the franchises repeatedly told tax preparers that “we are not the IRS” and that it is not their responsibility to prevent customers from filing bogus returns, the court documents said.
Many of the stores catered to customers seeking refund anticipation loans based on phony returns.
In one instance, a Jackson Hewitt franchise customer allegedly claimed a fuel tax credit so absurd that the tax filer would have had to drive almost 1,400 miles a day.
The suits seek court orders shutting down the franchises.
“I am deeply disturbed by the allegation that a major franchisee of the nations second-largest tax preparation firm is intentionally preparing improper tax returns with inflated refunds,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson.
Shares of Jackson Hewitt dropped $5.87, or 18.1 percent, on Tuesday to $26.53 after earlier hitting a new 52-week low of $26.26 on the New York Stock Exchange. Before Tuesday, the shares had traded between $27.90 and $37.44 in the past year.
A representative from Parsippany, N.J.-based Jackson Hewitt did not immediately return a call for comment.