Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Tax preparer arrested in Belize last year sentenced in nearly $2M scheme

The owner of the Hillsborough County tax preparation business created falsified tax returns that led to overinflated refunds for clients.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 4:35 p.m. February 8, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
UnSplash/Hédi Benyounes
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
  • Share

A Hillsborough County tax preparer has been sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty in October to helping create “well over” a thousand false and fraudulent income tax returns that cost the IRS nearly $2 million.

Thomas Johnson, whose age was not disclosed, will also have to pay $1.68 million in retribution and serve one year of supervised probation when he is released.

Johnson was arrested in Belize last year and originally faced 14 counts, each with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. In October he pleaded guilty to the single count.

According to the U.S. State Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, Johnson owned and operated Expert Tax and Accounting in Seffner.

In his role, Johnson would create tax returns that included false entries for education credits and Schedule C businesses deductions which led to large tax refunds to be issued to his clients — refunds that he would then take a portion of.

In all, the scheme led the Internal Revenue Service to overpay $1.68 million in refunds between 2014 and 2016.

In one 2015 case cited in the indictment, Johnson prepared a Form 1040 for a client identified as PU that included the fraudulent schedule C deductions and education credits. (Schedule C, according to the IRS, is used to report income or losses from businesses run as a sole proprietor.)

Because of the deductions and credits, PU received a $19,282 federal tax refund.

The scheme fell apart when the IRS began to investigate and contacted a number of Expert Tax’s and Johnson’s clients.

According to the plea agreement, the clients told investigators they’d met with Johnson and he’d gathered the information required to create their tax returns. When investigators presented the returns that had been filed, “the taxpayers indicated to the IRS that the entries in those tax returns related to business losses and education credits were false and that they had not provided any such details or information to Johnson.”

The clients also told IRS investigators that Johnson never allowed them to see the returns and once the refund checks were issued would meet them at a local check cashing business. After the checks were cashed, Johnson “collected a large portion of the refund for himself as part of his fee,” according to the plea.

Johnson also listed others as the preparers to hide what he was doing according to the plea agreement and paid people to help recruit clients.   

Johnson was indicted March 24, 2021.

On Jan. 19, 2022, Belizean police arrested him for immigration violations at his home in San Pedro, a town on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. The day following his arrest, he was taken to Miami by federal agents.

He made his first court appearance Jan. 21 in Miami.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

Latest News


Special Offer: Only $1 Per Week For 1 Year!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.
Join thousands of executives who rely on us for insights spanning Tampa Bay to Naples.