A local tax preparer who pleaded guilty to tax fraud was sentenced this week to four months in federal prison.
Mayra Betty Peñuñuri Cordova was facing up to two years behind bars after she pleaded guilty in March to one count of filing a false tax return, and two counts of assisting in the preparation of false tax returns.
However, during her sentencing on Tuesday, Judge James A. Soto of U.S. District Court in Tucson opted to give her the four-month term, followed by a year of probation.
He also required her to pay $125,860 in restitution to the IRS, as per her plea agreement.
Peñuñuri was accused of cheating the government out of $85,842 by filing false 1040 forms in Rio Rico for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012. She reportedly falsely claimed two dependents, which gave her head of household filing status.
She also reportedly helped two taxpayers in Tucson qualify for deductions, exemptions and other tax credits by falsely claiming dependents between 2011 and 2015, resulting in $40,019 in unpaid taxes.
In a pre-sentencing memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace H. Kleindienst noted that Peñuñuri made her living preparing tax returns and “undoubtedly knew the rules of tax return preparation” when she committed the offenses.
“The defendant knew better. Her illegal conduct caused the government to suffer a substantial tax loss,” he wrote.
Defense lawyer Matei Tarail wrote in a pre-sentence filing that Peñuñuri’s illegal activity “can be traced to a good deed.”
She was working as an independent tax preparer in 2010 when Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration bill was signed into law, stoking debate about racial profiling, he wrote. When an ABC television program called “What Would You Do?” came to Tucson to do a hidden-camera segment in which actors posing as Spanish-speaking restaurant customers were confronted by a private security guard, Peñuñuri was one of the few people who confronted the guard.
The show was widely seen on TV and the internet and “her phone began ringing off the hook with people that wanted her to do their taxes,” Tarail wrote, adding that “her business spiraled out of her control.”
Even so, he wrote: “She acknowledges making serious mistakes and cutting corners.”