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April 26, 2012 Issue

Investigator warns of tax fraud
Walden pleads guilty to charges from last year
Foresters ask for help identifying invasive species

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Investigator warns of tax fraud

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

David Leonard, an investigator with the Wrens Police Department, said last week there have been several cases in the area of people filing tax returns fraudulently.

The victims discover the fraud when they file their taxes and find someone else has not only already filed tax returns using the victims’ information but have in many cases already received a return.


One area tax preparer said he has seen more cases like this, this year than at any time previously.

“There are cases where a taxpayer may learn another person has filed taxes,” he said. “We have seen more this year than I remember. Six or seven that I’m aware of out of our office and normally we might see one.”

He said the increase in popularity of tax software has made it easier for people to fraudulently file.

“I know Georgia in particular this year has randomly mailed letters for taxpayers to call or go online and take an identity quiz before the IRS would release the return,” he said. “They are taking steps to counter it.”

Mark Green, a media relations specialist with Georgia IRS, said in an interview last week, that some people are infiltrating churches as a means to gain information to file tax returns fraudulently.

The person will contact a church and say he or she will file tax returns for the congregation, take a fee and the church will get a profit from the tallies of the returns, Green said.

“It occurred in Savannah,” he said, adding the person will speak to the church and gain the trust of the congregants. The victims readily provide the needed information to the con artists whom they believe is filing their tax returns properly.

Green said he has seen more scams this year than in any other of the 28 years he’s worked with the IRS.

He said scammers use technology to come up with more schemes.

“They want your Social Security Number, your financial information and your money to assist in preparing a bogus tax return,” he said.

“You as the victim, the first thing you want to do is contact your local police department to get a police report. Then the second thing we ask you to do is contact us to get an affidavit and then the third thing I would suggest is I would contact all three credit bureaus and request a fraud alert and that’ll go on your SSN.

“The only down side on that is if you’re out shopping and want to open a store credit card there’ll be a delay because they have to verify who you are,” Green said.

Anyone who receives a notice from the IRS should contact the number on the notice.

Others who believe they are victims of identity theft should contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490, he said.

Complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.

The numbers for the three credit bureaus are 800-525-6285 for Equifax, 888-397-3742 for Experian and 800-680-7289 for TransUnion.

Leonard said the victims in Wrens learned they had been victims when they tried to file their tax returns and were informed their returns had already been filed.

The investigator said he has also received reports about individuals who have had their tax returns prepared by private individuals, usually a family member or a friend of the family. In some of these cases, that tax preparer is providing incorrect or fraudulent information on the tax return to inflate the amount of money that will be refunded.

“Frequently the illegal tax preparer will have the refund mailed to the tax preparer’s address and then cash the check, taking a large portion of the check off of the top and then give the taxpayer an amount the taxpayer believes is the actual refund,” Leonard said.

“The taxpayer is often unaware of this practice, but nevertheless is still responsible for any monies that would need to be returned to the government because of the fraudulent tax return,” he said.

Leonard said some people are reluctant to report this practice to the police because of embarrassment or fear of prosecution.

“Any investigation would focus on those persons who knowingly violate the tax laws; because, such practices cost everyone in the long run,” he said.

Leonard urges all citizens to report any fraudulent tax return activity to their local police department.

The IRS states that people should be alert to possible identity theft.

If you receive an IRS notice or letter that states more than one tax return for you was filed; you have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return; or IRS records show you received wages from an employer unknown to you.

Green said anyone contacted by the IRS about a possible fraud should respond immediately.

Leonard is asking all citizens to use caution when providing personal information such as a Social Security Number or banking information.

“Any citizen who thinks he or she may have been the victim of a fraud should contact their local law enforcement office immediately,” he said.

The telephone number for Wrens PD is 706-547-3000.


By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Peddlers prepare to start their engines during the peddle car/tricycle race at the Mitchell Springfest Saturday. The festival, which had downtown events Friday, Saturday and Sunday attracted hundreds to the small town. In addition to the parade and vendor booths, tasty eats and kids area, visitors were treated to live entertainment, fireworks and a community church service Sunday morning.


Walden pleads guilty to charges from last year

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

A 28-year-old Louisville man, Christopher Walden, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of obstruction of a police officer and one count of possession of marijuana, District Attorney Hayward Altman said Tuesday.

Both counts in this case are misdemeanor charges, he said.


The charges stem from an incident that occurred in June of last year when two Louisville police officers stopped Walden after he had been identified by a juvenile as having sold firecrackers to the boy.

A police report of the incident stated Walden said he didn’t have any firecrackers and attempted to walk away from the officers.

“While doing so, he removed something from his pants pocket and tossed it towards the patrol car. Officers grabbed (him) by the wrist in an attempt to detain him and he swung in an attempt to strike the officers,” the report states, adding the man was arrested after a brief struggle.

Representatives from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said in July that Walden had accused the officers of police brutality. An investigation into the charges was conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which released a report to the district attorney in August. In September, Altman said he would not file any charges against the two officers.

which released a report to the district attorney in August. In September, Altman said he would not file any charges against the two officers.

On Tuesday, Altman explained the possession of marijuana charge is a misdemeanor because the amount of marijuana was less than an ounce.

“(The) one count of obstruction of an officer was a misdemeanor grade, which means he fled from the officers,” he said.

“He was given 12 months probation on each count to run consecutively, which means he’ll serve 24 months on probation,” the district attorney said.

Walden was also fined $1,000 and given special drug conditions, which Altman said means while on probation Walden can be searched by law enforcement.

“His place of residence, his vehicle and his person can be searched without a search warrant,” he said, adding probation officers can always drug test somebody one probation.

Foresters ask for help identifying invasive species

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Locals need to be on the lookout of a new killer, cogongrass, which is said to be pretty on the outside, but dangerous on the inside.

“It is an invasive species that came in via one of our ports a long time ago,” Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger Shane Barrow said. “It is kind of like kudzu, it spreads very rapidly and chokes out the natural vegetation. It hinders native plants from growing and takes all the nutrients out of the soil, which the native plants would use.”


Barrow said the grass not only affects plants, but also animals in taking away from the vegetation they would normally eat. The weed was introduced to the United States in Grand Bay, Ala., in 1911 through packing materials that were in shipping containers from Japan. Barrow said cogongrass is very prevalent in southwest Georgia because of its Alabama entrance into the United States.

In August 2011, there were 574 sites for cogongrass in the state in 51 counties.

“Cogongrass is a real threat to Georgia’s forests, fields, pastures, yards and landscapes,” Georgia Forestry Commission Senior Forest Health Specialist Mark McClure said. “It’s an invasive weed that is highly flammable and increases the risk of wildfire. It also smothers natural vegetation, which reduces wildlife habitat, tree and plant regeneration and ecological diversity.”

Barrow said cogongrass can also choke out pine trees with its rapid growth.

“It is very fire resistant,” he said. “It burns very hot, and if it is on fire in a pine stand, the intensity on the ground is so hot it would kill the pine trees.”

Cogongrass is most easily identified in the spring, usually from March through June, with its fluffy white seed heads that sit atop green stems. The weed has sharp, pointed rhizomes, which are the roots, and leaves with a white, off-center mid-rib, while growing in a matted, circular pattern.

“It is not selective about the environments it grows in,” Barrow explained. “Right now, what is showing is the white fluffy flowers. It is kind of like a miniature version of cattail. The flowers will show from now until late May and early June. Those flowers are the eye catcher right now.”

Right now, forestry officials are asking citizens to look out for cogongrass.

“Anybody who sees it should call the Georgia Forestry Commission,” Barrow said. “We handle all of the eradication at no cost to a private landowner.”

Barrow said that it takes several sprayings of herbicides to get the weed under control. Cogongrass is not considered eradicated from a site until the site is found negative for three consecutive years.

The grass is transported usually by vehicles, farm equipment or forestry equipment when they move from one location to another.

The closest locations to Jefferson and Glascock counties with confirmed cogongrass is McDuffie and Richmond counties. There is one site in McDuffie, with three sites in Richmond. All of the sites are being treated by the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Citizens who have found the grass in Jefferson County or Glascock County are asked to contact the Georgia Forestry Commission at (478) 625-3319.

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