Collin County man indicted for theft of COVID economic impact payments

Published 9:55 am Monday, June 29, 2020

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SHERMAN, Texas – A 50-year-old Plano, Texas man has been indicted and charged with federal violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox on Friday.

James Mwanza was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 18, 2020 and charged with wire fraud, theft of government money, and aggravated identity theft.  Mwanza went before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christine A. Nowak today for an initial appearance.

According to information presented in court, from at least January 2020 through April 2020, Mwanza, claiming to be a tax preparer, allegedly prepared and filed fraudulent income tax returns with the IRS.  To do so, he unlawfully obtained the personal identification information of other individuals, including names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.  Mwanza used Electronic Filing Numbers assigned to other tax preparation firms who were not affiliated with him, to file the returns and claim false tax refunds.  The filing of the false returns also triggered payment of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) provided for under the CARES Act.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The CARES Act authorized over $2 trillion in relief programs, including approximately $560 billion for benefits to individuals.  An estimated $300 billion of that total was allocated for Economic Impact Payments (EIPs).

Under the CARES Act, qualifying individuals may receive up to $1,200 in EIPs per adult, up to $2,400 for married couples filing jointly, and $500 per child under 17 years old.  Individuals with income exceeding $99,000 or joint filers whose income exceeds $198,000 do not qualify for any payment.

“Fraudsters engaged in identity theft to steal taxpayer refunds have now turned their attention to stealing Economic Impact Payments,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox. “The Eastern District of Texas is working with our law enforcement partners to utilize all available tools to ensure that government payments get to the taxpayers who need this economic relief.”

“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration remains committed to investigating and pursuing attempts to corruptly interfere with Federal tax administration, including tax preparer misconduct involving the theft of tax refunds and Economic Impact Payments,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.  “We appreciate the hard work of our law enforcement partners in this investigation.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment scams and other financial schemes looking to take advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu of the Dallas Field Office.  “IRS Criminal Investigation is dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat fraud schemes that harm innocent taxpayers.”

If convicted, Mwanza faces up to 20 years in federal prison.  A grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt.

This case is being investigated by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Coan.