FILE - Gavel on money

Two North Carolina women pled guilty filing false tax returns to the IRS to obtain $5 million in fraudulent refunds.

(The Center Square) — Two North Carolina women pled guilty to defrauding the Internal Revenue Service approximately $5 million for filing false claims to obtain fraudulent refunds.

Betty Hawkins, 51, and Phyllis Ricks, 63, of Rocky Mount worked as tax preparers. According to court documents and statements, the two conspired with others to file false tax returns for clients of the tax preparation business where they worked between 2009 and 2018. More than 1,000 false tax returns were filed with the IRS to obtain the fraudulent funds.

The guilty pleas were announced on Monday by Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Michael F. Easley for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The IRS-Criminal Investigation department is investigating the case. The case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys Michael Jones and Mary Frances Richardson of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Menzer.

Hawkins and Ricks face a maximum penalty of five years in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government. They also will have to pay restitution, monetary penalties and be on supervised release. A federal district court judge will determine the sentence after reviewing the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. They are scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16.

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.