by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - A Fulton County judge gas ruled in in favor of a Hapeville councilwoman under investigation and her daughter, saying they can keep doing taxes, even though the state argued that would be a danger to the public.
Investigators with Georgia's Department of Revenue say Ruth Barr's tax filings have already cost the state millions of dollars, and they don't want to rack up any more problem returns.
In fact, clients who have already used her to file their taxes this year will have their returns flagged and reviewed before any refunds are sent.
The judge said the state may be able to win at trial but didn't show enough evidence in Tuesday's hearing to immediately block her from doing taxes until then.
"We take it very seriously, and always have and something like this would just put me out of business; it's pretty devastating," Barr told Judge Todd Markle on Wednesday.
She testified that preparing taxes is her livelihood, and these three months of tax season are when she makes her living.
At issue was whether Markle will side with Georgia's Department of Revenue and uphold an injunction filed to block Barr and her daughter, Anne Barr Cruz, from filing any more returns.
"There is a serious risk of widespread harm to the public and to the state should the defendants be allowed to continue their practice," argued Assistant Attorney General J. Scott Forbes.
State investigators launched their case last year after Channel 2 Action News exposed questions about thousands of returns Barr filed, which appeared to yield inflated refunds for her clients.
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Criminal investigators have since alleged the vast majority of Barr's returns contain fraud, and have started asking taxpayers to repay more than $6 million to the state.
"I look at whatever information they happen to bring, but sometimes they do not have the statements with them and they give me the numbers they want," Barr testified.
She pointed out that her clients were supposed to look over their own returns for accuracy, and her attorney argued that any inaccurate returns were not intentional.
But investigators testified the patterns of business deductions and charitable contributions were just too strong to be coincidence.
"For this many people to all donate exactly $500 in non-cash donations, in my experience, is highly improbable," said Agent Scott Santillie, who is also building a criminal case against Barr that could involve hundreds of felony counts.
Barr told the judge the state experts are wrong.
"I've never filed a fraudulent return ever in all the 44 years I've been in business," she said.
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