The founder of a company charged with conspiring to defraud the government was arrested this week crossing the border from Mexico to the United States near Laredo, Texas, the Department of Justice said.

A federal grand jury in August returned a 148-count indictment charging Renaissance, The Tax People Inc., its founder Michael Craig Cooper, and employees Jesse A. Cota, Todd E. Strand and Daniel J. Gleason with conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding the Internal Revenue Service; conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; willfully assisting in the preparation of fraudulent federal income tax returns; mail fraud; and wire fraud.

Cooper and Renaissance are also charged with money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property of a value greater than $10,000.

The indictment, which remained sealed pending Cooper's Oct. 25 arrest, alleges that from June 1997 though April 2002, the four men operated a scheme to defraud the IRS and other individuals by marketing a program designed to sell individuals tax deductions through false, fraudulent and misleading representations.

According to court papers, Renaissance sold a fraudulent home-based business package through which it offered tax support to members in the form of purportedly legitimate tax return preparation, tax advice and audit protection. The indictment alleges that the four men operated an illegal pyramid scheme, requiring participants, referred to as "Individual Marketing Associates," to pay monthly fees to qualify for commissions and offering them the opportunity to receive commissions and bonuses for recruiting others to join Renaissance.

If convicted, each faces a maximum of five years in jail and $250,000 in fines for the mail and wire fraud conspiracy charges; five years and $250,000 in fines for each count of mail fraud and wire fraud; three years and $250,000 in fines and costs of prosecution for each count of aiding and assisting in the preparation of a fraudulent tax return; 20 years and $250,000 in fines for conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering; and 10 years and $250,000 for each count of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property of a value greater than $10,000. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $84 million, plus land, vehicles, gold coins, bank accounts and life insurance polices.

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