Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Judge bars Nation Tax Services, owner of tax prep stores in Tampa, St. Pete from filing returns

Jason P. Stinson's company, Nation Tax Services, operated 12 stores in four states, including three in Tampa Bay. The company filed 14,000 tax returns since about 2012, collecting up to $1.6 million in fees from mostly poor and unsophisticated clients.

But Stinson, 32, a University of South Florida criminology graduate, made an odd assertion when lawyers last year questioned him about his business.

He said, records show, that he did not have sufficient knowledge to prepare tax returns.

Stinson won't ever have to prepare another return after a federal judge Monday permanently barred him from the tax preparation business after ruling he and his employees filed fraudulent forms with the IRS to boost profits. He also was ordered to forfeit $949,952 in customer fees.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Anne Conway came after a six-day bench trial in Orlando.

Lawyers for Stinson, a Longwood resident who operated two stores in Tampa and another in St. Petersburg in addition to locations in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, said he will appeal the ruling. Stinson declined to comment.

Stinson's stores focused on taxpayers claiming earned-income tax credits, a refundable tax credit for working people with low to moderate incomes. The judge's order said Nation Tax extracted its fee from a customer's refund rather than upfront.

The fees charged, the government said, were exorbitant — frequently $600 per return and as much as $999. And the money was taken "oftentimes without informing the taxpayer of the fee amount," the judge wrote. "The goal was to get the maximum refund to make the customer happy and deduct a larger fee."

But the judge said the road to those higher fees involved filing fraudulent information.

Nation Tax Services fabricated deductions that included unreimbursed business expenses, improperly charging as business mileage the length of a taxpayer's commute to work and made false claims for business lunches and other expenses, the judge said.

The firm became so bold fabricating expenses that the numbers sometimes verged on the ludicrous, the judge's order indicated. One return, for example, claimed business expenses that were $6,000 higher than the taxpayer's annual income. Another return claimed $16,000 in business expenses on an income of $35,000, the judge's order noted.

The company also filed erroneous income information, inflated the numbers of dependents claimed and false educational credits, the judge said.

At trial, Stinson argued that he and his employees simply took down the information given to them by taxpayers and so were not responsible if false numbers were provided. The judge, however, soundly rejected that argument, saying Stinson either knew what was going on or, as the owner of Nation Tax Services, should have known.

The judge found that Stinson engaged in "fraudulent and deceptive conduct."

"The goal of his business model was to essentially take advantage of low-income taxpayers," the ruling said. "Stinson lured customers into his store with the promise of maximum refunds and — contrived — maximum refunds he delivered."

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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