Baltimore, MD – Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot praised Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and investigators from his office and the Attorney General’s Office whose collaborative work led to a Grand Jury delivering nine indictments on felony and misdemeanor charges.

Indicted were Lateisha Vanessa Kone, a Baltimore woman who owned Liberty Tax Service franchises, and eight of her employees. The nine women filed fraudulent income tax returns for more than a thousand vulnerable Maryland residents.

Comptroller Franchot released the following statement:

“I’m grateful to the men and women of my Field Enforcement Division who work hard to investigate potential criminals and the talented staff of the Office of the Attorney General who, like me, are committed to protecting our citizens from being victimized by tax fraud and identity theft. I’m very grateful to our terrific Maryland Attorney General, Brian Frosh, whose actions today send a clear, serious message to tax thieves and would-be tax thieves that their activities will have enormous consequences.

“The nine individuals charged today not only violated our laws, they also violated the trust placed in them by their clients. The ringleader and her associates targeted the most vulnerable – the homeless, disabled, drug addicts, and poor people already gasping for stability. They lured victims by paying them $50, then submitted false tax returns to make a profit with disregard to the consequence to their clients.

“The only interest they were serving was themselves. They were willing to engage in disgusting tactics and practices to make a quick buck. I can’t wrap my head around how anybody can do such unconscionable and despicable acts.

“The unfortunate reality is that Ms. Kone and her criminal associates are a mere handful of the many who commit tax fraud and identity theft on a daily basis. Tax fraud takes a growing toll on all Maryland taxpayers. Fraudulent refunds come out of all of our wallets. These financial predators preyed on the poor, but all taxpayers are at risk here. As Comptroller, I remain committed to aggressively pursuing criminals like these tax preparers and protect hardworking and innocent Maryland taxpayers. I’m proud my office is a national leader in combating these threats to the financial well-being of Marylanders and that our investments in technology and people have resulted in the detection of more than 65,000 fraudulent returns and prevented the disbursement of $152.4 million in fraudulent refunds in the last nine years.

“When I took office in 2007, we had a total of 314 fraudulent tax returns with a cumulative dollar value of $657,000.  Last year, that total skyrocketed to almost 20,000 fraudulent returns worth more than $39 million.

“While my office has made numerous strides in going after these criminals, we know there is much work to be done. Tax fraud continues to rise. The fraud artists will only get more sophisticated, more brazen. That’s why I remain committed to working with Attorney General Frosh and other stakeholders to ensure we’re doing all we can to protect Marylanders and fully prosecute criminals who break our laws.”