CLEVELAND - An Atlanta-area woman, operating a $4.8 million fraud conspiracy involving nearly 1,000 Northeast Ohio residents, was charged Thursday.
Zinara Highsmith, 35, of Fayettsville, Georgia, is accused of filling approximately 2,750 false tax returns containing false claims of more than $4.8 million.
Of those false tax claims, more than 950 were made on behalf of Northeast Ohio residents including a Canton pastor.
Highsmith founded the tax-preparation business WE XL LLC in 2010 in Atlanta. . From March 2011 through July 2011 she partnered with a minister in Arkansas in a scheme to file false tax returns.
The minister's role was to recruit and collect personal information, needed for tax returns, from claimants and relay that information to Highsmith.
During this time the minister reached out to other ministers and church leaders from other states, including Ohio. The minister asked the leaders to solicit members of their congregations to apply for benefits under the so-called government stimulus program.
In turn, the minister forwarded the claimants’ personal identification information to Highsmith to use in preparing false tax returns.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin J. Roberts following an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.