Gavel

A tax preparer with local ties has pleaded guilty to filing phony returns in an effort to defraud the government of more than $1 million in refunds.

Luis Alberto Ortiz Garcia agreed to plead guilty to one count of unlawful use of means of identification and another count of money laundering during a hearing on Monday at U.S. District Court in Phoenix, court records show.

As part of his plea deal, Ortiz must pay restitution up to $587,367, in addition to any other punishment ordered by the judge at his sentencing hearing, which is currently set for Jan. 13.

According to the factual basis of his plea deal, Ortiz has lived in Tucson and Nogales since 2006. After taking a tax preparation class, he began preparing and filing 1040 forms with the Internal Revenue Service.

Beginning in at least January 2010, he started filing false tax returns using the personal identification information of others as part of a scheme to generate fraudulent tax refunds.

He reportedly obtained the information by purchasing documents from people living on or near the Mexican border, obtaining it from others engaged in the false tax return business, or stealing it while volunteering his tax preparation services.

Between January 2010 and December 2015, Ortiz filed approximately 203 false income tax returns in an attempt to obtain approximately $1.15 million in fraudulent refunds.

In addition, his plea deal says, Ortiz assembled and sold packets of personal information to others, then volunteered to teach the buyers how to use the information to prepare and file false tax returns in order to generate fraudulent tax refunds.

Court records show that Ortiz was initially arrested on March 13 in Tucson on an eight-count indictment and released on his own recognizance a week later.

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