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AG crackdown on fraudulent Hispanic tax groups

April 2, 2013

Oregon-department-of-justiceTwo tax practitioners catering to Hispanic community fined, barred from tax business

By Oregon Attorney General

The Oregon State Board of Tax Practitioners, in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Justice, recently concluded disciplinary action that should put two Oregon tax preparers out of business.

In February, the Board of Tax Practitioners levied a $22,350 fine against Aracely Hernandez of Hillsboro. She prepared tax returns and offered immigration advice though she had neither a tax preparer’s license nor a license to practice law.

On March 8, Tirsa G. Fong-Guien of Medford gave up her tax preparer’s license and agreed to never again get into the tax preparation business in Oregon as part of a settlement with the state. She was also fined $25,000. Audits determined that more than 80 percent of the tax returns prepared by Fong-Guien contained errors.

The two cases illustrate the growing problem posed by “notarios.”

In Latin American countries, “notario publicos” are qualified and extensively trained professionals who offer a variety of consumer and legal services. In the U.S., people who are unlicensed and untrained often hold themselves out as notarios. Unsuspecting immigrants go to them expecting sound legal and financial advice and often get neither.

Both Hernandez and Fong-Guien, also known as Tirsa Villanueva, catered to the Hispanic and immigrant community.

“Oregonians, particularly those of Hispanic descent, should know that addressing the notario issue is a priority for the Department of Justice,” said Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon Attorney General.

The board began looking into Hernandez after multiple clients filed complaints with the Department of Justice.  Hernandez took their money but left some returns unfinished. She refused to return original documents and threatened clients if they didn’t withdraw their complaints.

The terms of the settlement require Hernandez to return clients their documents and offer them restitution. She’s also must pay $9,921 in attorney fees. Clients seeking restitution should contact the Board of Tax Practitioners at 503-378-4034.

Unlike Hernandez, Fong-Guien, was properly licensed with the state. But a large number of the returns she prepared contained mistakes. Concerns about the accuracy of those returns prompted the Oregon Department of Revenue to conduct audits, which determined that 80 percent of the returns contained inappropriate deductions, credits, or dependents. Some of the returns listed the wrong state of residency.

Correcting the errors cost her customers an additional $155,000 in state tax obligations.

In an effort to address the notario issue, the Oregon Department of Justice is supporting H.B. 2573. The bill would make the unlicensed practice of law a separate violation of the Unlawful Trade Practices Act. The change would facilitate DOJ enforcement actions against notarios.

Since 1973, the Board of Tax Practitioners has protected Oregon consumers by ensuring tax preparers and consultants are competent and ethical in their professional activities. The board licenses about 4,400 tax practitioners in the state. It also offers education, administers licensing tests and responds to consumer complaints.

You can check if your tax professional is properly licensed by checking the board’s website at  www.or.gov\application\obtpsearch or by calling the board at 503-378-4034.

  
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