A former Chicago tax preparer was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for filing nearly 3,200 false federal income tax returns that claimed refunds totaling more than $3.37 million for clients.

Verlean Hollins was sentenced Thursday to 46 months in prison and fined nearly $800,000 after pleading guilty in January to two counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false federal income tax returns.

Hollins, 43, of South Holland, Ill., was ordered to begin serving her sentence on Sept. 23 by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan. The $798,250 fine, which Hollins agreed to but does not currently have the ability to pay, represents twice the product of the 3,193 false returns, multiplied by Hollins’ average client fee of $125.

This was “not a minor offense, there was significant loss to the government over a period of years,” Judge Der-Yeghiayan said in imposing the sentence in U.S. District Court. “Defendant stole from the people,” he said, adding her crime “became a business lifestyle.”

Hollins, who owned Taxes, Etc., Inc., admitted that for calendar years 2009 through 2011, she filed a total of 3,193 individual income tax returns for clients, each of which claimed false education tax credits. As a result, she falsely claimed refunds totaling more than $3.372 million for her clients, the majority of whom paid her approximately $125 to prepare their returns. The vast majority of Hollins’ clients never indicated that they or a dependent were eligible for a college tuition credit, and among the small number of her clients who were eligible for the tax credit, none provided any documents to support eligibility, prosecutors pointed out.

The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaarina Salovaara. The sentence was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and James C. Lee, special agent-in-charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.