For Nakeisha Hall, the IRS might as well have been the family business. The daughter of a long-time employee of the federal tax collection agency, Hall started working for the IRS in 2000. A large chunk of her career was spent in Taxpayer Advocate Service offices in four states, where she assisted people who had been victims of identity theft.
But as Hall was helping taxpayers, she was also using them to steal from the government, federal authorities said.
Now, she is going to federal prison: The 40-year-old former federal worker was sentenced Wednesday to more than nine years in prison after pleading guilty in an identity theft and tax fraud scheme that affected hundreds of taxpayers and netted hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Alabama.
In all, Hall attempted to steal more than $1 million, the government said. She successfully claimed more than $400,000.
"This defendant abused her position of trust as an IRS employee," U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said in a statement. "Hall victimized United States taxpayers and jeopardized the reputation of the IRS."
Hall's sentence "reflects the outrageous and serious nature of her crime," Vance added.
The scheme went on from 2008 to 2011, as Hall used her access to IRS computers to get people's names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, according to federal prosecutors.
She then used that information to submit bogus tax returns, often tweaking or making up income and employment information to inflate the returns.
She requested that the IRS put the refunds onto debit cards that would be mailed to addresses that she or her co-conspirators controlled, according to government prosecutors. Her accomplices would activate the cards using the stolen identity information, then withdraw the money from ATMs or use the cards in stores.
Sometimes, they forged signatures on refund checks in order to cash them.
One identity-theft victim was was a 77-year-old Alabama man whose information Hall accessed without "a legitimate business reason," according to Hall's plea agreement.
In 2010, Hall filed a federal tax return in the man's name, using a fictitious address and falsely stating that the man had been employed at Walmart - and that he was owed an IRS refund.
One of Hall's co-conspirators picked up a debit card in the victim's name for nearly $1,400. That October, the debit card "was used at "multiple locations in and around" the street where the co-conspirator, Jimmie Goodman, lived. The plea agreement states that Goodman had previously "used the same ATMs and gas stations to retrieve money from his own tax refund card."
Three co-conspirators, all of whom live in Birmingham, pleaded guilty in the case, according to the IRS:
• Goodman, 37, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud. He was sentenced to three years and five months in prison.
• Lashon Roberson, 36, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud affecting a financial institution and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Roberson, who worked for years in the financial services industry, was sentenced to three years in prison.
• Abdulla Coleman, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud affecting a financial institution and bank fraud. He is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 14.
But the harshest sentence was reserved for Hall, who "came up with the idea for the scheme" and recruited her co-conspirators, according to government.
"Misusing her position with the Internal Revenue Service, Ms. Hall stole the identities of American taxpayers and filed false tax returns in their names," Karl A. Stiften of the IRS Criminal Investigations division said in a statement, adding: "Refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude and with this degree of dishonesty and deceit, deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
The IRS offices where Hall worked bill themselves as advocates for taxpayers, especially those who are struggling to meet their obligations.
"The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is your voice at the IRS," the agency's website says. "We ensure you are treated fairly, and know and understand your rights. If you are having tax problems and have not been able to resolve them with the IRS, you may be eligible for free TAS assistance. We know this process can be confusing, but the worst thing you can do is nothing at all!"
Tax scams are an ongoing concern for the IRS, which compiles an annual "Dirty Dozen" list of "common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year."
"The IRS continues working to warn taxpayers about phone scams and other schemes," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in February.
Earlier this year, authorities arrested five people in Miami who had tricked 1,500 victims into paying them $2 million in "taxes" they didn't owe.
Hall, the tax-fraud schemer working inside the IRS, entered a guilty plea in February on charges of theft of government funds; aggravated identity theft; unauthorized access to a protected computer; and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution.
She was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre in Birmingham.
Said Ruben Florez, Special Agent in Charge of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's Mid-States Field Division: "Violations of federal law, particularly those committed by IRS employees who are entrusted to protect taxpayers' sensitive information, will not be tolerated."