San Angelo Tax Preparer Sentenced to 14 Years for Tax Fraud

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FILE PHOTO: American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington

A San Angelo tax preparer whose fraudulent tax returns cost the IRS millions of dollars was sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham. His adult son and daughter were sentenced to 66 and 80 months, respectively.  

Hugo Cesar Granados, manager of Columbia Tax Service, his daughter, Blanca L. Granados, and his son, Hugo Alberto Granados, were convicted at trial in August of conspiracy to defraud the United States and multiple counts of aiding in the preparation and presentation of false documents. They were sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix

“Columbia Tax Service doctored clients’ tax returns to inflate clients’ refunds and line the Granados’s pockets. Such blatant fraud is an affront to all conscientious taxpayers,” U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham said following the verdict.  “As is their right, the Granadoses opted for a trial by jury. We are proud to have obtained a guilty verdict. I’m thankful to the IRS Criminal Investigation agents who ran this case to ground and to the members of the jury, who gave three days of their lives to bring these defendants to justice.”  

“Today, justice is served – a victory for all honest tax return preparers and taxpayers. Hugo Cesar Granados, along with his daughter and son, are being held accountable for their criminal actions,” Special Agent in Charge Christopher J. Altemus, Jr., IRS Criminal Investigation of the Dallas Field Office said today. “I am extremely proud of the women and men of IRS-CI who work tirelessly each and every day to bring criminals like these individuals to justice. I also want to extend my gratitude to the US Attorney’s office and specifically the prosecution team for their relentless pursuit of justice in this case.”  

At trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that the elder Mr. Granados and his co-conspirators falsified their clients’ individual income tax returns (Forms 1040) in order to inflate the clients’ tax refunds.

They routinely fabricated clients’ Schedule A, itemized deductions, and Schedule C, sole proprietorship profit and loss statements, claiming the taxpayer owned a business when no such business existed, claiming unreimbursed employee expenses such as travel and per diem, and claiming business expenses related to maintenance, utilities, supplies, insurance, and professional services that were never incurred or grossly inflated. 

Testimony adduced at trial showed that Columbia Tax Service claimed more than $900,000 in income in 2015 and more than $1.3 million in income in 2016.

An employee who plead guilty prior to trial, Saul Garcia-Soto testified that in 2016, Columbia Tax employees met with Hugo C. Granados because taxpayers were not receiving their refunds from the IRS. When questioned, the elder Mr. Granados asked the employees if they thought the company was doing something illegal. Mr. Garcia-Soto said that he, Blanca Granados, and Hugo A. Granados all replied that they thought Columbia Tax was doing something illegal. In response, Hugo C. Granados just smiled and turned back to his computer.

In a Skype chat introduced at trial, Blanca Granados wrote to a co-worker: “Fraud is ridiculous here yo . . . I swear.”

Prosecutors also introduced into evidence the company’s “tax preparation manual,” a handbook that outlined exactly how to commit fraud.

In discussing preparation of Schedule C of the tax return, the manual stated: “This is where your training and knowledge of income and deductions will make a big difference in the amount of refund the taxpayer will be obtaining. A determination has to be made if the return needs additional income to generate the maximum earned income and other credits or if the return has a substantial amount of income (Adjusted Gross Income) and needs to come down to maximize the earned income and other credits.” In other words, the manual advised tax preparers to manipulate income to maximize refunds rather than referring to the law to determine whether an activity was a business for income tax purposes and whether expenses properly qualified as a business deduction.

At sentencing, experts put the estimated tax loss in excess of $11.7 million.

The Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations conducted the investigation. The San Angelo Division of the Northern District of Texas, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Haag, Ann Haag, Amy Burch, and Paulina Jacobo (fmr), prosecuted the case.