A local tax preparer was sentenced last week on in Maricopa County Superior Court after pleading guilty to a charge of preparing a false tax return, a class 6 felony.
Michelle Schaefer, the owner of MM Tax Solutions, located at 41605 W Hillman Dr. in Maricopa, also was indicted on eight other charges: four counts of Preparing False Tax Returns, and four counts of Forgery. Those charges were dropped as part of her plea agreement, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue.
The ADOR, whose Criminal Investigation Unit investigated the case with assistance from the Arizona Attorney General’s office, said Schaefer was ordered to pay a fine of $8,900 and restitution in the amount of $2,965.
Schaefer was indicted Dec. 21, 2020 and entered a guilty plea on the single tax charge Dec. 13, 2021. She was sentenced Jan. 20 to two years supervised probation, and as part of the plea agreement, Schaefer stipulated she would not prepare taxes for compensation in the future. She also said the fact that eight of the nine charges were dropped showed that her offense was not a serious one.
“They dismissed eight counts that I was indicted for,” Schaefer said. “Only one count, filing a false tax return – my own – was what I pled to, and that was due to a misunderstanding in a form. So, I did go ahead and plead guilty to that. I did receive probation and a fine but the other eight counts were dismissed. So, the big guilty plea was literally for one charge of filing a false tax return and that was a felony 6 undesignated, which will go to a misdemeanor as soon as successful probation is completed.”
The ADOR highlighted Schaefer and MM Tax Solutions as a cautionary tale in a section of its website warning consumers about tax preparer scams and citing examples of tax preparer fraud the agency had stopped.
“Michelle Schaefer, owner of MM Tax Solutions, was indicted on charges of Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, four counts of Preparing False Tax Returns, and four counts of Forgery for allegedly preparing Arizona tax returns that contained fraudulent information for tax year 2018,” the website said. “It is alleged that Schaefer operated a scheme in which she would knowingly create fictitious W-2s with fabricated Arizona income tax withholdings to increase tax refunds for herself and three clients. The inclusion of the fraudulent withholding amounts on its tax returns resulted in higher tax refunds.”
In an ironic twist, Schaefer received the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce’s award as Sonny Dunn Citizen of the Year in 2017 for her work with Maricopa Pantry. According to Maricopa resident Tivvy Kelly Jones, who said she has had business dealings with Schaefer and was a victim of a fraudulent scheme – but is not a victim in the tax fraud case – Schaefer used that award as leverage.
“She uses that award to commit these crimes and scams, to show people how reputable and respectable she is,” Kelly Jones said. “Then when she’d get caught, she avoided getting charges by paying people back the money she’d scammed them out of and getting them not to file charges.
“She tried to get the courts to give her a harassment claim against me, but I told her if she tried that, or took away our gun rights or affected my husband, I’d sue her,” Kelly Jones said.
Read an earlier story about the charges here