55 indicted in alleged $250-million tax fraud scheme
A federal grand jury has indicted 55 people in San Bernardino County in connection with an alleged tax fraud scheme involving the filing of false income tax returns seeking more than $250 million in bogus refunds, authorities said Monday.
Many of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.
Others are accused of making false claims against the United States, with a maximum sentence of five years.
The IRS investigation centered on two companies: Old Quest Foundation in Fontana and De la Fuente and Ramirez and Associates in Rancho Cucamonga.
Old Quest, accusing of preparing and filing false returns, allegedly told customers they could get hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax refunds from a "secret government account."
Company representatives allegedly gave presentations with people posing as attorneys, accountants, certified public accountants and former IRS employees, telling audiences that the United States was bankrupt and owned by England.
Customers were required to make "donations" of as much as $10,000 to the company and pay a percentage of the refunds they received.
The company received about $1 million from customers in the scheme, according to the indictment.
The indictments charge the owners of the company -- Arturo S. Ruiz, Francisco J. Mendoza and his wife, Maria de Jesus Mendoza -- along with attorneys and tax preparers who worked for them, as well as customers who received the allegedly fraudulent refunds.
Francisco Mendoza was arrested Friday, while authorities were still seeking the other two owners.
De la Fuente and Ramirez and Associates allegedly carried out a similar scheme, recruiting people at seminars and consultations and charging them $2,500 to become customers.
Owners Genaro de la Fuente, Osman Norales and Francisco Ramirez were charged, along with tax preparers, customers and a promoter.
De la Fuente has been arrested, Ramirez was to receive a summons to appear, and Norales was listed as a fugitive.
-- Abby Sewell