Tax preparer sentenced to prison

Man falsified returns to get refunds for clients, charging $100 each

October 25, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Mark A. Knight thought he had it all planned: Dangle the promise of a hefty tax refund in front of unsuspecting people, charge $100 for preparing their returns and make fast money.

The problem was, Knight, 38, of Thurmont was improperly indicating refunds were due. When the Internal Revenue Service got wind of his scheme - after mailing refund checks for nearly $1.2 million to hundreds of Knight's customers - officials stepped in.

In August, Knight pleaded guilty to two counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns from May 1999 to May 2000.

Yesterday he was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for his crimes, which largely involved members of Faith Christian Full Gospel Baptist Church in Salisbury.

Officials say Knight prepared 1,179 fraudulent returns claiming more than $2.7 million in refunds, and earned $117,900, based on his $100 fee.

Assistant Public Defender Jeff Risberg, who represented Knight, declined to comment yesterday after the sentencing.

Knight briefly addressed the court.

"I'd like to thank my family for showing up today and for their continuing support," Knight said, looking back at his mother and brother.

Knight then told U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis that he had been under a lot of stress, stemming from his bout in 2000 with testicular cancer, his drug and gambling addictions and his father's recent death.

Then Garbis shot back, calling Knight's crime "perfectly horrible" and talking about the number of victims involved, "some of whom knew something crooked was going on."

"I don't have any sympathy at all," Garbis said. "I think you victimized a lot of little people. You hurt them a lot."

The IRS learned about Knight from an informant who told them Knight was preparing false income tax returns. About the same time, the criminal investigation branch of the IRS' Philadelphia Service Center discovered he was doing so.

"They had done an internal computer analysis and identified returns prepared by Mr. Knight as suspicious," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Kelberman, who prosecuted Knight. "That's what got the investigation started."

Knight's scheme took off after he prepared amended tax returns for 1996, 1997 and 1998 for Robert Douglas, pastor of Faith Christian Full Gospel Baptist Church. The two men were introduced by Douglas' son-in-law.

Knight told Douglas he wanted cash and would not accept a check as payment for the $100 fee because he had once gotten stuck with a bad check.

After Knight helped Douglas, the pastor told members of his congregation about Knight's business, which was operated from locations in Thurmont, Alexandria, Va., and elsewhere.

Congregation members believed that Knight was a certified public accountant, although he learned how to prepare tax returns by watching other people and taking a tax class from H&R Block, according to court documents. Knight also attended George Mason University for two years, where he majored in business and received about 16 credits in accounting.

Kelberman said members of Douglas' church - and others who paid Knight to file returns - won't face charges. However, he said people who received refund checks must repay the money to the IRS, and the IRS may require them to pay penalties and interest as well.

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