BROOKSVILLE Unfortunately for Luequita Jackson, as well as the residents who turned over their most sensitive legal documents to LBS Tax Services, the only Jackson listed by the IRS to file tax returns in Brooksville is Jackson Hewitt.
On Monday morning, special agents with the Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, Hernando County Sheriff's Office, and Brooksville Police Department raided a rented office building at 973 W. Jefferson St. operating under the name, LBS, or "Loan Buy Sell," and — later that afternoon — they did the same to another LBS office near the intersection of Spring Hill Drive and Mariner Boulevard for filing fraudulent tax returns.
There was no sign on the building except the same roadside signs recently staked into the ground around the county, which could be seen from the windows. Jackson declined comment following the raid, and her business as well as the LBS Tax Services in Spring Hill appear to be open. The sheriff's office says they did not shut down the LBS in Spring Hill, but "took absolutely everything they need to function."
"It was a state search warrant, so it was done by Hernando County Sheriff's Office, and we were there assisting the local sheriff's office in executing the warrant," said Casimir Tyska, special agent in IRS Criminal Investigations.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office conducted the joint investigation with the Tampa Area Alliance Financial Crimes Task Force.
Rita Rudny, a counselor at "Abide In Him, Inc." next door to LBS, said she had a bad feeling about the business.
"I've been in this office 13 years. These folks have only been here a couple months," Rudny said. "From the time they moved in I just had this sense that something wasn't right. A lot of traffic, adult partying. All I can say is definitely not a professional organization."
Normally things are very quiet there, she added.
"It's just been a very different kind of atmosphere lately," Rudny said, adding that within the first week LBS had Bright House, a security system, and new equipment like fax machines and telephones. "They're putting a lot of money into this little thing, which was interesting."
Each LBS store is independently owned, and the temporary Brooksville operation advertised being able to give customers with one child more than $3,000 in tax returns. But online complaints express other LBS branches take advantage of low-income minority groups, suggesting fantastic tax returns for low to modest charges.
However, throughout the course of filing paperwork, those rates become drastically inflated in the name of processing and filing fees, costing customers upward of five times what they would spend for a basic tax filing from a licensed tax preparer.
Making matters worse, a high rate of return after filing one's taxes could be the result of undocumented deductions specified in the paperwork by unscrupulous tax preparers, who falsify reports they submit to the IRS.
"Victims can spend years trying to straighten out a stolen identity issue and the money stolen from the government costs us all millions of dollars in the long run," Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.
And in the eyes of the IRS, each taxpayer is ultimately responsible for his or her tax filings, not the tax-preparer they trusted.
"If you go to IRS website, there's a whole section there for return preparers, and what taxpayers need to look for in a tax-preparer," Tyska said. "I think the public really needs to know this."
The IRS website shows abusive return preparers frequently prepare bad returns for large numbers of taxpayers who, at best, are stuck with paying additional taxes and interest and at worse, depending on culpability, are subject to penalties and maybe even criminal prosecution.
"It is important to know that even if someone else prepares your return, you are ultimately responsible for all the information on the tax return," the IRS website reads.
The Rev. Linda Carroll of "Victory Mission" church, who holds services two doors down from the Brooksville LBS office and has for nearly 10 years, said she wasn't surprised to see nearly 10 squad cars with lights flashing in the LBS parking lot Monday morning.
"Not shocked at all, I expected it," Carroll said. "I felt when people come out of there crying they were already scammed. I feel real bad people are doing this; it's just a sad state of affairs. How do you help somebody like that?"
Jackson left the scene with two other women from the store. They were not arrested.
"We've known for awhile that something wasn't right. Her attitude was extremely arrogant, and she didn't want me to question her," Carroll said. "We just had not good feelings about them people, cars coming and going in the back – it's not good."
LBS Tax Services' website encourages visitors to contact their main office directly. However, no phone number is listed.
Detectives ask that anyone that filed a tax return with LBS Tax Services, and was given a refund amount and then was "advised" how to increase that amount using "questionable" income or expenses, to call Detective Bill Horvath in Economic Crimes immediately. Those returns are being evaluated during this investigation and the sheriff's office says that information will be discovered, so they are requesting customer cooperation.
Detective Horvath can be reached at (352) 797-3732 or firstname.lastname@example.org" name="web">email@example.com.
The Sheriff's Office has no control over the issuance or recovery of any tax refunds, and contact regarding tax issues will need to be made with the IRS.