Clayton Co. duo accused of stealing millions in tax returns

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

Two Clayton County businessmen are facing federal charges for allegedly filing millions of dollars in fake tax returns, targeting thousands of potential victims.

MORROW, Ga. - Two Clayton County businessmen are facing federal charges for allegedly filing millions of dollars in fake tax returns, targeting thousands of potential victims.

IRS agents believe the two took advantage of a tax credit meant for college students, known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

The refund can be claimed for expenses paid for tuition and certain materials for higher education.

Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, meaning the taxpayer can obtain a refund even if that taxpayer owed no tax during that particular season.

According to an affidavit filed in United States District Court, Clayton County businessmen Kevin Sonnier and Bernardo David are accused of filing 15,000 fake tax returns in order to obtain $15 million in fraudulent tax money.

Sonnier is the owner of Sonnier Tax Services, a tax preparation company based in Morrow.

Even though the company's owner is facing federal charges, when Channel 2 Action news checked the Sonnier Tax Service website on Monday, it was still up and running. There is even a form that students can fill out to give their personal information.

When Channel 2's Rachel Stockman visited the address for the business on Lake Harbin Road, the company appeared to be cleared out and no one was around.

An attorney for Sonnier said that because of the ongoing federal proceedings, he has no comment at this time.

"You basically get these calls and people will walk up to you say, 'Have you had your taxes done?' or hand you a card or something like that," said Fior Brooks, a student at Clayton State University in Morrow.

The college is located very close to the tax service company, although Brooks said he was not aware of the alleged scheme.

"There is a lot of deductions on your tax return in which there is no independent verification, unless you get audited, and this is one of them," explained John Kozak, who is a certified public accountant in Clayton County.

He also teaches a tax course at Clayton State University.

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Since 2011, according Kozak, the IRS has required a little more information from taxpayers wanting the particular credit.

"Prior to 2011, you had to fill out a form, put the student's name and claim an amount," said Kozak. The issue appears to be widespread.

"Misleading and bogus refund claims have been identified on college campuses through the Southeast Region," according to a recent press release by the IRS.

According to the IRS, taxpayers should be aware of the following:

• Handmade flyers and brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility of income.

• Unfamiliar for-profit tax services selling refund and credit schemes to the membership of local churches.

• Internet solicitations that directs individuals to toll-free numbers and then solicit Social Security numbers

• Offers of free money with no documentation required

• Unsolicited offers to prepare a return and split the refund.


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