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Boone County Couple Pleads Guilty in Federal Tax Refund Fraud Scheme

Owen and Patricia Wheeler, of Everton face up to ten years in prison at sentencing.
FORT SMITH, AR - A Boone County couple has pleaded guilty in a federal tax refund fraud scheme.

Owen Wheeler, 37, and Patricia Wheeler, 51, of Everton entered their pleas Tuesday. They admitted to two counts of filing false claims for tax refunds and stealing federal tax refund money. Owen Wheeler also pleaded guilty to an additional count of aggravated identity theft.

“Schemes to fraudulently take advantage of the tax system and to fraudulently use the identities of others in doing so will not be tolerated. I applaud the continued effort by the IRS to vigilantly investigate these crimes, and my office will continue to prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law," said Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, in announcing the guilty pleas.

According to court records, both defendants took advantage of streamlined procedures recently put in place by the Internal Revenue Service to assist taxpayers with obtaining their tax refunds in a more expeditious manner. The defendants used the identities of numerous persons to file fraudulent claims for tax refunds using the "TurboTax" brand of online tax software. Defendant Owen Wheeler opened a bank account in the name of an actual person, into which he deposited the U.S. Treasury checks that were issued in response to the defendants' fraudulent tax refund claims. Over the entire course of the scheme, the defendants stole over $132,000 from the U.S. Treasury.    

Both defendants were originally indicted on March 6th. They face up to ten years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for both charges. Defendant Owen Wheeler faces an additional mandatory two years in prison for the aggravated identity theft count that will run consecutively with other punishments.  

This case was investigated by agents from IRS-Criminal Investigations, who were assisted by the Boone County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
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