Charles W. McClure, a Colorado tax preparer, pleaded guilty to p reparing a false income tax return and will face up to a three-year jail term, a $100,000 fine and restitution of up to $12,516.

McClure, 58, of Center, Colo., will be sentenced on July 28.

In mid-2003, authorities from the Internal Revenue Service searched two of McClure's business locations in Monte Vista, Colo. McClure was a tax preparer and a county commissioner at the time the crimes occurred.

According to the warrant, McClure allegedly filed fraudulent tax forms in the names of low-income clients for non-existent small businesses, mostly home daycare firms. By increasing his clients' adjusted gross income, he was allegedly able to boost the amount they received as tax refunds -- a practice corroborated by undercover agents working out of the Denver IRS office.

The search warrant affidavit also noted that McClure's corporation had not filed corporate income tax returns since 1991.

"Tax preparers should be the pillars of our system of taxation, not the architects of its circumvention," said Bill Leone, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, in a statement.

The IRS established the Questionable Refund Program to deal with the serious problem of refund fraud, which has increased significantly in recent years. The IRS estimates that fraudulent refund claims now exceed $500 million each year.

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