A former California tax preparer was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he filed dozens of false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

Rene R. Lopez, 61, the former operator of Lopez & Associates Business Consultants in Van Nuys, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to pay restitution of $114,467 to the IRS.

Lopez pleaded guilty in April to one of the counts charging him with presenting a false claim to the IRS.  The count related to the filing of a fraudulent 2000 income tax return claiming a refund of $2,765.

However, according to documents filed with the court by prosecutors, from 1998 through 2001, Lopez prepared and filed at least 85 fraudulent income tax returns with the IRS claiming $130,797 in false income tax refunds.  Lopez submitted these false returns in the names of his clients without their knowledge, and kept the fraudulent refund amounts for himself, according to prosecutors. 

To facilitate the deception, Lopez provided his clients with dummy returns that made it appear as if their tax liabilities had been correctly reported to the IRS. After a refund check was issued by the Treasury Department based on the second fraudulent return, Lopez would issue his client a cashier’s check for the correct amount of their federal income tax refund, and keep the larger fraudulent refund check for himself.

Lopez was indicted by a federal grand jury in April of 2003. Following his arrest, arraignment and release on bond, Lopez fled the country for Colombia rather than accept responsibility for his actions. After 10 years outside the country, Lopez returned to the United States and surrendered to IRS authorities in February.

The investigation and prosecution of Lopez was conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.