‘That’s one fire too many’: NC tax preparer twice burned files to dodge feds, sent to prison

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:35 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:38 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - At the close of a tax fraud case awash in big numbers Monday, a judge cited a simple mathematical calculation to send a prominent west Charlotte tax preparer to prison.

Andrivia “Tina” Wells pleaded guilty last year to charges involving the filing of more than 6,000 fraudulent returns for unsuspecting clients that claimed more than $3 million in inflated refunds.

Wells also collected some $1.2 million in fees, which she directly siphoned from the refunds of her clients without ever telling them what she charged.

Twice during the midst of federal investigations of her company, Rush Tax Service, Wells also “set or caused” fires that destroyed recorded demanded by the Internal Revenue Service or subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.

That, according to U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad, was “one fire too many.”

Conrad sentenced Wells to 70 months in prison Monday, telling the 54-year-old in court that she had not taken responsibility for her crimes and had displayed “a profound disrespect for the law.”

According to witnesses in the courtroom, Wells apologized for her actions. Wells, who has been in custody since her June 2019 arrest, will be transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Her punishment is on the low end of what prosecutors had recommended for Wells, a convicted felon who served eight years of a 151-month sentence after being convicted in 1999 of being part of a Charlotte-based, drug-trafficking conspiracy.

In her written sentencing memo for the tax-fraud case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn Finley said Wells had victimized the government, legitimate taxpayers and especially her clients, who were unaware that they had been dragged into a criminal enterprise. When the inflated tax returns were challenged, Wells left her customers on their own to face the IRS, Finley said.

Wells also falsified her own tax returns by under-reporting the fees she collected from clients and falsely claiming deductions, including an education credit she filed for a son who was serving a prison sentence at the time.

And then there were the fires. Twice, federal investigators demanded records from Wells. Twice, suspicious blazes broke out at company offices or her own property that destroyed reams of the documents being sought.

The first, in 2017 at a Rush office on Beatties Ford Road, took place on the very day Wells was to present tax records to the IRS.

The second, in 2019, occurred 10 days after Wells was indicted and arrested on a series of fraud and obstruction charges. It destroyed documents demanded by a subpoena from a federal grand jury investigating her company.

A few days before, Wells, her daughter and two associates convened a meeting on a record phone line from the Mecklenburg County Jail on how to make any damning paper trail disappear.

“We’ve got to get the stuff out before they put the locks on. It’s no secret no more ... This s--- is real,” someone said on the recorded call, according to a government filing in the case.

“We have files in there, clients we’ve done. We’ve got to get a U-Haul and move all of that stuff out of the place at one time. A very large U-Haul.”

Instead, they set a fire.

One fire too many, Wells’ judge would later decide.

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