A federal grand jury has indicted a California tax preparer for claiming he was an enrolled agent with the Internal Revenue Service.

The grand jury returned a 17-count indictment Friday charging Keith Thayer Towns, 46, of Fairfield, Calif., with 16 felony charges of making false statements to the IRS and one misdemeanor charge for misusing the name of the IRS. The case arose after an investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Samantha Spangler, between March 2004 to March 2009, Towns submitted power-of-attorney forms to the IRS in which he falsely represented that he was an enrolled agent certified by the IRS. In addition, according to the indictment, from at least Oct. 16, 2003, to March 2009, the Web site for Towns’ business, Emerge Financial Group, advertised that he was an enrolled agent for the IRS.

“Paid preparers are a critical component and stakeholder in tax administration,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “When preparers overstate their professional qualifications, it impacts taxpayers’ faith in the tax system.”

The maximum statutory penalty for each false statement charge is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a three-year term of supervised release. The maximum statutory penalty for a misuse of the IRS’s name is one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a one-year term of supervised release. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables and any applicable statutory sentencing factors.

The Justice Department cautioned that the charges are only allegations, and that the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Towns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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