Daughter follows mom to jail for IRS fraud

Published 3:03 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

NEW ORLEANS — Lengthy prison sentences to consider the seriousness of their crimes is how one IRS official detailed the punishments handed down this week to a mother and daughter duo from Destrehan convicted of defrauding the government of almost $2 million.

United States District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle sentenced Lashanda Vinnett, 30, of Destrehan Wednesday to 18 months in jail, three years supervised release and $1,092,681.43 in restitution.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite made the announcement this week that Lashanda was sentenced Wednesday for conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

On Oct. 21, co-defendant Cathy Vinnett — Lashanda’s mother — was sentenced to 41 months incarceration.

IRS Acting Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie said Cathy and Lashanda used their business to defraud the government and to take advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers.

“Lengthy prison sentences will allow them ample time to consider the seriousness of their crimes,” he said.

“As filing season is still underway, I would like to encourage taxpayers to exercise caution when choosing a return preparer, and also to report those they suspect of wrongdoing.”

The Vinnetts, through their company, River Parish Tax Professionals, filed approximately 310 tax returns, Polite said, which falsely claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the listing of false dependents, resulting in approximately $1.845 million in fraudulent tax refunds.

According to court documents, Cathy opened the D&C Tax Service in 2006, and in 2008, Cathy and Lashanda created River Parish Tax Professionals to file fraudulent tax returns.

Prior to Wednesday’s proceeding, the IRS seized approximately $482,000 in illegal proceeds from bank accounts controlled by the Vinnetts. In addition, the IRS prevented approximately $270,000 in intended fraudulent refunds before they were processed, Polite said.

The Vinnetts utilized recruiters to locate potential clients. These recruiters advised potential clients that the federal government was giving out stimulus money and instructed the individuals to visit River Parish in order to obtain their money.

The Vinnetts would interview clients at their office in LaPlace to obtain their personal information including their name, address and Social Security Number. The Vinnetts used that personal information to file false tax returns.

The clients had no knowledge that the Vinnetts were filing false returns in their names, Polite said.

“I want to commend the IRS-CI for their exemplary work investigating River Parish Tax Professionals and its owner, Cathy Vinnett, and her daughter, Lashanda Vinnett,” Polite said.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to prevent fraud on any level and, in particular, those individuals who prepare and file fraudulent tax returns.”