via U.S. Department of Justice
BIRMINGHAM – A federal judge today sentenced a Birmingham man to three and a half years in prison for assisting in the preparation of false income tax returns and tampering with a witness the IRS contacted to question about returns he had prepared, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot.
U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon sentenced Donald E. Steele, 42, on five counts of assisting in the preparation of a false federal income tax return in 2010 or 2011, and on one count of witness tampering in 2011. At the time, Steele operated Max Tax, a Birmingham tax-return preparation business owned by his wife. A federal jury convicted Steele in August following a three-day trial.
Steele is to report to prison February 21. Judge Kallon imposed three years of supervised release following completion of Steele’s prison term and ordered him to pay restitution of $63,217 to the IRS once he is released from prison.
According to evidence at trial, Steele made false claims and fabricated tax deductions on federal tax returns for three different taxpayers.
Multiple taxpayer witnesses testified that they were not given a copy of their tax return when they were prepared. When investigators later presented them their returns, they saw fraudulent claims that included false filing status, false dependents, false itemized expenses including medical and dental deductions and charitable contributions, false business expenses and deductions, and false disability claims and education expenses and credits.
The jury found Steele guilty of tampering with a witness for whom he had prepared a fraudulent 2010 return. The woman testified that she tried unsuccessfully many times to get a copy of her return from Steele, but once the investigation began, he showed up at her workplace and handed her a $200 check, which she considered a bribe not to talk to the IRS.
IRS-CI investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Patton Meadows and Manu Balanchandran prosecuted.