Five plead guilty in Valdosta tax fraud scheme

(Top row, from left) Belinda Harris, Cynthia Clarkston, Susie Hall Sherman. (Bottom row) Tanya Franklin, Johnny Gary.


VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Five people have pleaded guilty in a tax fraud case out of Valdosta, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia confirms.

The Department of Justice says the pleas were entered on Wednesday, April 4 from 33-year-old Belinda Harris, 38-year old Cynthia Clarkston and 46-year-old Susie Sherman.

Two codefendants, 42-year-old Tanya Franklin and 27-year-old Johnny Gary, entered guilty pleas in the same case on March 15, according to case documents.

According to the DOJ, Harris, Clarkston, Sherman and Gary worked together between 2010 and 2012 to file numerous fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities.

Officials say stolen identity information was found in the homes of Harris, Clarkston and Sherman while Gary obtained more than 100 identities from an individual who worked at Valdosta State.

Authorities say the IRS investigation of the scheme discovered 222 fraudulent federal income tax returns from 2010 and 2011 were directly linked to the conspiracy, in which nearly $670,900 was claimed in refunds and nearly $259,000 in refunds were issued.

The DOJ says Franklin admitted to authorities to using her business bank accounts to cash fraudulently obtained checks, saying she knowingly cashed 99 such checks in 2011 and 2012 for nearly $334,390.

Harris pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, presenting false claims, stealing and embezzling public money and possessing unauthorized access devices and aggravated identity theft. She faces a maximum sentence of seven years in federal prison and restitution of the refund money received.

Clarkston, Sherman and Gary pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, presenting false claims, stealing and embezzling public money and processing unauthorized access devices. Each faces up to five years' imprisonment and restitution of the taxpayer money stolen.

Franklin pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government funds and faces up to 10 years in federal prison and more than $300,000 in restitution.


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