2 Delaware residents convicted in New Jersey on numerous counts in fraudulent tax return scam

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TRENTON, New Jersey — The owners of a tax preparation business that allegedly filed fraudulent returns on behalf of inmates at various New Jersey prisons have been convicted of conspiracy and numerous other charges.

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey say Delaware residents Kamal James and Crystal Hawkins operated Release Refunds from October 2011 to October 2013. The now-defunct business was based in Brick, New Jersey, and Seaford, Delaware.

James and Hawkins solicited current and former New Jersey prison inmates as clients and then filed the returns on their behalf, prosecutors said. James is also known as "Bro Messiah Aziz El," while Hawkins is also known as "Sis. Crystal Gabri El."

The pair used flyers to solicit business at halfway houses and prisons, convincing clients to provide basic information and sign income tax forms that didn't have any information about their actual income. James and Hawkins eventually filled in false income information in order to get increased refunds, prosecutors said.

An undercover IRS agent pretending to be a client "hired" the company and received a fraudulent refund of thousands of dollars, while James and Hawkins received a $1,485 fee.

James, who lives in Seaford, and Hawkins, a Laurel resident, were both convicted Friday on 16 counts of false claims, three counts of mail fraud and a single count of conspiracy. The jury deliberated for an hour before returning the guilty verdicts, concluding the one-week trial.

Both James and Hawkins face lengthy prison terms when they are sentenced May 11.

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