Phony tax preparer stole from small-business owners: feds

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FILE – This photo shows multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page in Zelienople, Pa., Feb. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Associated Press file photo

A 60-year-old Virginia woman whom prosecutors described as an educated business professional with “little excuse for stealing money from well-meaning business owners” has been sentenced to federal prison on felony wire fraud charges.

Lisa Tucker Dillard, of Roanoke, Virginia, is accused of preying on small business owners who spoke limited English by offering professional accounting and federal tax filing services for a monthly fee.

“Ms. Dillard did not file or pay taxes on behalf of the victims; she simply pocketed the money,” prosecutors said in sentencing documents. “In reality, she was operating in full ghost mode. She had no status as a tax preparer with the IRS, no PTIN or EFIN number, and no authorization that would allow her to file taxes on behalf of the victims.”

A federal judge in the Western District of Virginia sentenced Dillard to two years in prison on Monday, April 25. She was also ordered to pay $190,294 in restitution.

Dillard’s public defender did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on April 27.

Prosecutors said Dillard owned a tax preparation business in Franklin County, near the North Carolina border, despite not being an IRS-approved tax return filer.

Starting in 2018, the government said, Dillard began preying on small-business owners — many of whom “spoke English in a limited capacity.” Dillard is accused of telling them they owed a tax liability to the IRS that they could pay in regular installments.

“She instructed the victims to make their installment payments directly to her, claiming she would make payments to the IRS on the victim’s behalf,” prosecutors said in documents filed with her plea agreement.

According to those documents, Dillard never paid the IRS and instead deposited the money into her personal bank account. Prosecutors said she sometimes gave fake receipts to the small-business owners containing the IRS logo to make them look legitimate.

Dillard is accused of defrauding at least eight small-business owners of more than $190,000 in total during the course of the alleged scheme.

Court documents show she waived her right to an indictment and pleaded guilty in May 2021. Her bond was set at $20,000.

Dillard consented to a prison sentence of between zero and 24 months as part of that agreement, though prosecutors pushed for a sentence at the top end of those guidelines.

A public defender representing Dillard asked the judge to consider her home circumstances in issuing a prison sentence. According to court filings, she takes care of her mother’s medical needs and looks after her granddaughter while her daughter is at work.

“Any sentence of incarceration that this Court imposes will not only limit her ability to care for her family, but also impair her ability to earn income to pay the amount of restitution the Court orders,” her public defender said.

But the government said Dillard had jeopardized the businesses she victimized, many of which “owed tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.”

Dillard has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration and ample “opportunity to make an honest living,” prosecutors said in sentencing documents.

“The victims sought her out based on the skills she claimed to possess, and she abused their trust,” they said.

Dillard also has a previous conviction on charges of felony embezzlement from 2010, according to court filings. Prosecutors said she was back to defrauding people within about two years of that conviction.

“Ms. Dillard has not gotten the message that she cannot steal from people,” the government said. “She continues to work as a business consultant, as she has for the past decade.”

Prosecutors requested the judge impose certain career restrictions after her release, namely to prevent her from providing tax preparation or accounting services and further defrauding small business owners.

While the judge agreed to a 24-month federal prison sentence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t say whether she will face any occupation restrictions after her release.

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Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.