December 22, 2014

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Tax preparer had ID fraud conviction

Until Friday, two H&R Block tax service offices — in Vermilion and at the Centre of Sheffield shopping center in Sheffield Township — employed a tax preparer with a felony conviction for identity fraud.

Lorain County Court of Common Pleas’ records show that tax preparer Amber Sheaves is under community control until February 2014 for the charge that she pleaded guilty to in December 2008.

Sheaves was terminated after H&R Block learned about her criminal conviction, according to company spokesman Gene King.

“Our associates are required to follow the company’s strict compliance and business ethics guidelines. Failure to do so may be grounds for termination,” King said in a news release sent to The Chronicle-Telegram.

King said all candidates applying for a tax professional position, including Sheaves, must pass a background check. He said when the company becomes “aware of new information,” it will take action.

“In this case the associate was terminated once we learned of information that would disqualify her from serving as a tax professional,” he said. “This one, isolated incident is certainly not a representation of our tax professionals.”

Police began investigating Sheaves after learning that she opened 16 accounts in her sister’s name, from May 2004 to Dec. 31, 2007, without her sister’s consent. Court records show that Sheaves made several purchases from an account in her sister’s name, Tara Sheaves, resulting in a balance of more than $30,500.

Amber Sheaves admitted to the crime, according to the documents, and prosecutors obtained a text message from Sheaves to her sister stating, “Don’t worry, you’ll have your new car and won’t have to pay a penny. My life is over either way.”

Sheaves’ profile on H&R Block’s website said that Sheaves has nine years of experience as a tax adviser and that she has worked as a teacher for Amherst Schools. She began working at H&R Block as a receptionist, according to the website, but the website did not list how long she had been employed for the company. As of late Friday, her profile had been removed.

Sheaves did not return a call for comment Friday, nor did the company’s district manager.

Jennifer Jenkins, spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service, said the IRS “does go after abusive tax return preparers,” but she could not comment on H&R Block’s hiring practices.

The IRS has been cracking down against refund fraud and identity theft, according to Jenkins.

In January, the IRS led a massive national sweep targeting identity theft suspects in 32 states and Puerto Rico that led to 734 enforcement actions, including 109 arrests and 189 indictments. The IRS also visited money service businesses in “high-risk areas” to ensure the businesses were not assisting in identity theft or refund fraud, according to a news release from the IRS.

In 2009, the IRS launched the Return Preparer Review — recommendations to extend oversight to certain areas of the preparer industry to enhance tax compliance and service to taxpayers. The recommendations would require paid tax preparers to register through the IRS, undergo compliance checks and take competency tests, among other requirements.

But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the IRS to refrain from enforcing the regulations, according to the IRS’s website.

According to a statement on the website, the agency is working with the Department of Justice on its options, including appealing the court’s decision, but it “continues to have confidence in the scope of its authority to administer this program.”

Jenkins said it is important for people to do their own research when looking for a tax preparer and to be careful when having their taxes filed by someone else.

“There’s a lot of sensitive information that they’re opening up to the person that’s doing their taxes,” she said.

The IRS offers recommendations for those looking for a tax preparer. Those can be found on the agency’s website.

The website also has information on how to report suspected tax fraud activity or to make a complaint against a tax-return preparer.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.