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BALTIMORE (AP) The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly sent refunds to...

By Associated Press, 3/9/2000 12:50

BALTIMORE (AP) The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly sent refunds to a tax preparer's address for years after he moved, and more than $500,000 worth of checks was cashed by residents of the building and others, investigators said.

Among those who cashed the checks were a convicted drug dealer who paid for his court-ordered home monitoring bracelet and a hair salon owner accused of funneling more than $100,000 into an account for his shop, The (Baltimore) Sun reported Thursday, citing search warrants filed in U.S. District Court by the Treasury Department.

No arrests have been made.

The court documents said the door of the dingy, three-story row house was once kicked in by someone who wanted a piece of the government's inadvertent generosity.

Don Roberts, an IRS spokesman in Washington, said the agency cannot discuss specifics of the case because it's a pending criminal matter.

The IRS sent the checks to the four-apartment row house from 1989 to 1999, intended for a tax preparation company that once rented the first floor, The Sun said.

IRS computers failed to note the tax preparer had left the address, and they continued to mail corporate refunds and other mail to the row house. Investigators have identified about 200 checks that were illegally cashed after they were sent to the address but didn't know how many more were taken.

''It is impossible to determine precisely how many checks have been pilfered and negotiated ... or how many bank accounts may have been opened,'' a federal agent wrote in an affidavit.

According to a federal affidavit, when James E. Lewis left to start the firm where he had power of attorney for companies and received their tax correspondence, the IRS failed to document that he was no longer representing many of the companies.

The IRS continued to send refund checks for payroll withholding taxes to Lewis' former clients in his care, The Sun said.

Lewis, now a car salesman in Newport News, Va., hinted that he tried to alert the IRS about the problem of misdirected checks, The Sun said.

''There had been previous information when we were closing the business which we had redirected back to them before we even left,'' he told The Sun. He would not elaborate.

Lewis, 44, would not say what happened to the checks left at the building before he moved. He referred questions to his lawyer, Timothy G. Clancy, who declined to comment.

Investigators say that Lewis moved out of the office in 1994. But the checks kept coming.

-- - (, March 09, 2000

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