Columbus woman pleads to filing false tax returns


A 37-year-old Columbus woman pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to wire fraud and identity theft for filing $924,123 in false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Michelle Simmons of Columbus worked with 36-year-old LaRae Townsend of Orlando, Fla., to file the returns using stolen identities. Townsend also pleaded guilty, they said.

Simmons prepared tax returns at businesses in Columbus and Phenix City, where she used names and Social Security numbers Townsend provided to file 557 fraudulent income tax returns using an IRS “Electronic Filing Identification Number,” investigators said.

She and Townsend would split any funds they got from the IRS, authorities said.

The scheme did not always work, as some returns were rejected, cutting the government’s loss to $419,139, prosecutors said.

Besides wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, the pair pleaded guilty to filing false claims, investigators said.

Each faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million for wire fraud; up to five years and a $250,000 fine for making false claims; and a consecutive two-year sentence for identity theft, authorities said.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office aided in the IRS investigation.