A Chicago tax preparer who admitted writing false tax returns for hundreds of clients was sentenced Thursday morning to nearly four years in prison.
Verlean Hollins pleaded guilty in January to helping clients cheat on their taxes, in what the IRS said at the time was the largest fraud of its kind in Chicago history.
Prosecutor Kaarina Salovaara argued that Hollins deserved a stiff sentence, because the illicit refunds in the case topped $3.3 million.
"The defendant has admitted to a crime of staggering proportions," Salovaara told the judge. "She clearly matters to her family, she matters to her community, but that made the crime even more disturbing."
Hollins’ attorney, Raymond Wigell, argued that while the initial numbers were troubling, the actual loss to the Treasury was much less, because most of the taxpayers who received fraudulent refunds ended up paying the money back.
"What Verlean did was wrong, and it was fraudulent," Wigell told the judge. "But the suggestion that it was millions of dollars was just not the case."
Wigell argued that the end loss to the government was probably about $470,000. And he noted there was no suggestion in the charges that Hollins personally profited at all.
"None of these people said, 'I kicked back to Verlean,'" he said, contending that the fraud was just an effort to help out her clients, who took education tax credits they did not deserve.
"She is African American. Most of her clients are African American," he noted, saying the effort amounted to little more than inflating refunds with a rationale that "getting a little more is not going to hurt the government, but it’s going to help all these people."
Prosecutors charged that Hollins had other motives, not the least of which was to inflate her business.
"She did do this, and she did it for reasons of greed," Salovaara said.
When it was her turn to speak, Hollins asked for mercy from the judge, accepting full responsibility for the fraud she had committed, but begging for mercy so she could continue to provide for her family.
“I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done because it was wrong,” she said. “I’m truly, truly, not a bad person!”
But the judge indicated that the true victims of the crime were the citizens of the United States.
“I was trying to determine if the defendant was a modern day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor,” he said. “But the bottom line is, she stole from the people.”
“This happened in a 3 year period, one after another after another,” he said. “This became a lifestyle.”
Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan sentenced Hollins to 46 months in prison.
“You messed up,” he said. “And there are some consequences when you mess up.”