Wilmington, N.C. — A Department of Veterans Affairs worker has been sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for stealing personal information from disabled North Carolina veterans to generate bogus tax returns.
Michael Ray Woods, 48, of Fayetteville, was convicted in February of 12 counts of preparing false tax returns, 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of identity theft and two counts of aggravated identity theft.
Woods ran a tax return preparation business out of his home, and he often submitted phony returns for customers in exchange for fees, prosecutors said. Evidence presented at trial showed that his business grew by word of mouth, and by 2007, he was filing more than 800 returns annually and pocketing $150,000 in fees.
As a VA worker, he was supposed to transfer patient data from VA hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia to a computer in Richmond, Va. Prosecutors said he used the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of VA patients to create fake dependents on people's returns so they could qualify for larger sums under the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Prosecutors said choosing disabled veterans improved Woods' odds that the identity theft would go undetected because they were less likely to have taxable income and use their own identities to file tax returns.
In addition to his prison sentence, Woods was ordered to pay $464,000 in restitution.