Owner of Brooklyn Center tax business charged with tax fraud

A Minneapolis woman who ran a tax preparation business in Brooklyn Center is facing 18 felony counts of tax-related offenses.

Annie Mae Hester, 69, was charged June 1 by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office with a litany of felony charges, including 11 counts of knowingly preparing fraudulent returns, six counts of willfully evading income taxes, and one count of theft by swindle.

Per the criminal complaint, Hester has run a tax preparation business out of a number of Brooklyn Center office spaces since 2010, most recently in a space at 5701 Shingle Creek Pkwy. An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Revenue reportedly uncovered evidence that Hester allegedly used false information to increase her clients’ tax refunds without their knowledge or consent. Many of Hester’s clients reportedly were immigrants or people with little to no knowledge of state tax laws.

The complaint states that between 2011 and 2016, Hester prepared between 500 and 700 individual income tax returns annually, and charged between $100 and $300 for each return, receiving approximately $100,000 every year. Furthermore, the investigation cites that since 2012, Hester allegedly and intentionally used false information on her clients’ returns, such as false deductions, fake business losses and false medical expenses. Per the Department of Revenue, false statements from Hester between 2012 and 2015 bilked the state of Minnesota out of more than $1.4 million in tax revenue.

According to the complaint, Hester also maintained a website, witnessthelightministry.org, which advertised her tax preparation business. She reportedly registered “Witness the Light Ministry” as a limited liability company in 2012, and as such, she was required to claim income she made from the enterprise on her income taxes. In June 2014, Hester allegedly filed to use the assumed name of “Do It Yourself Tax Center” for Witness the Light, and applied for tax-exempt status in April 2015, which was granted two months later.

Hester’s business supposedly trained individuals to prepare their own taxes, but the investigation reportedly found that Hester did the returns herself. Hundreds of her clients were interviewed during their audits, with 27 of them providing in-depth details for the investigation. Per the complaint, the clients told investigators that Hester demanded payment before she would do any work for them. After the clients entered some or all of their basic information, Hester would take over and add false information. Clients interviewed during audits asserted that Hester entered the fraudulent data, which the clients were unaware of until the audits.

Furthermore, the complaint showed that Hester received taxable income between 2011 and 2015 but failed to file returns for the years of 2011, 2012 and 2015. It’s further alleged that Hester failed to accurately report income from her business in her 2013 and 2014 returns.

All tax fraud-related charges can see a maximum of five years in prison per count, while the theft by swindle charge can see a maximum of 20 years in prison. According to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Hester is due to appear in court June 23.

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]