by Neetu Chandak
An advocate for immigrants pleaded guilty on Friday for falsely adding three Mexican children as dependents on a client’s tax return.
Elias Bermudez, 67, helped immigrants preparing immigration and tax documents, The Associated Press reported. Officials said that Bermudez allegedly told undercover International Revenue Services (IRS) agents, who acted as clients, that they should include false dependents on their tax returns to reduce their liabilities.
Officials also added that Bermudez allegedly encouraged clients to list family members living in Mexico, including children that did not belong to the clients, as dependents, The AP reported. Bermudez allegedly prepared 27 false income tax returns from 2010 to 2012.
Bermudez told U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa that he made a mistake when filing one tax return that listed the three Mexican children and should have checked whether the children lived in the U.S., the AP reported. The move cost the U.S. government $4,000. Officials dropped 26 other charges made against Bermudez as part of the plea agreement.
Legally present immigrants, U.S. resident aliens, non-resident aliens and illegal immigrants who are not eligible for social security numbers can file taxes by having an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITIN holders are still eligible for child tax credits, but the child has to be a U.S. national, citizen or resident in order to be considered as qualified, according to a report from the IRS in 2014.
The Trump administration passed “HR 1 The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” in 2017 that made some modifications, which included that individuals cannot claim up to $1,400 in refundable credit if the child is not qualified. The act also temporarily increases the credit taxpayers receive to $2,000 per qualifying child.
Individuals can still receive $500 in family tax credit on children without social security numbers. The changes are expected to being in the 2019 tax filing year, according to a National Immigration Law Center report published.
Bermudez could face up to three years in prison for the felony charge, The AP reported.
Bermudez was asked by an Arizona county judge to stop the immigration consulting business in 2012 after clients claimed that they never received the services after paying.
He tried to continue his business after moving to New Mexico in 2012. The state attorney general, however, stopped the business because Bermudez was unauthorized to provide services.
Bermudez was previously sentenced to 18 months in prison for a money laundering conviction in 1996. He was also known for kneeling in front of then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and asking him to stop arresting illegal immigrants at a 2006 protest, according to The AP.
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