KENNEWICK — A Kennewick tax preparer is accused of pocketing nearly $20,000 in refunds by filing for both legitimate customers and people who never have worked.
Benjamin Jay Sargent, 55, pleaded innocent Thursday in Benton County Superior Court to five counts of first-degree identity theft and one count of second-degree identity theft.
The charges include the aggravating allegation that the crime involved "a high degree of sophistication and planning."
Prosecutors allege that as of Feb. 13, 2009, Sargent operated a tax form preparation service.
One of his customers filed a complaint with police when Sargent refused to return the husband and wife's forms from the 2008 tax year, court documents said. Further investigation by Benton County sheriff's detectives showed Sargent had prepared tax returns for several other people using their correct Social Security numbers, but requested that the refunds be deposited into his own accounts, documents said.
Detectives reportedly found two Bank of America accounts in Sargent's name with a total of seven deposits, each titled "tax refunds, treasury," and associated with the Social Security numbers of six people. The deposits ranged from $880 to $5,728, for a total of $19,623, court documents said.
The initial customer to go to authorities said she didn't know Sargent was splitting her return, as was evident in the $2,400 deposit in his account. The woman didn't hire Sargent to do her 2009 taxes, yet he allegedly got a $5,728 return in her name for that year.
Another woman said that per Sargent's tax forms, she expected a refund of about $5,000 from 2008, documents said. That money was deposited into her account.
However, she later learned the actual refund was about $880 higher and Sargent allegedly diverted that money into his own account without telling her.
A man who previously had Sargent prepare his taxes ended up with a $2,136 return in Sargent's account, court documents said. Yet the man hasn't worked for the past two years and hasn't filed returns.
A second man told investigators he had never worked or filed taxes and didn't authorize Sargent to file a return, yet brought in $2,560, documents said.
A third man said he never has had a job and didn't give permission to Sargent to do a tax return. Sargent previously helped the man open a bank account and he believes that is how the suspect knew his Social Security number, court documents said. His return was for $2,730.
And the final man met Sargent when he prepared his girlfriend's taxes in 2008. Somehow Sargent obtained that man's Social Security or other personal identification and filed a return for $3,189, documents said. The man hasn't worked in the past six to seven years.
When approached by sheriff's detectives to talk about the allegations, Sargent refused to talk.
His trial is scheduled Oct. 4.
Kennewick man pleads innocent to stealing lawn mowers
KENNEWICK — A 31-year-old man remains in jail on $10,000 bail for allegedly stealing two riding mowers and a utility trailer full of other yard equipment.
Nathan Steven Watkins of Kennewick pleaded innocent to second-degree burglary, second-degree possession of stolen property and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, Adderall.
Adderall is a drug often used to control symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Watkins allegedly had 60 mg of it in his front pants pocket.
A trial is set for Aug. 16.
Police were called at 8 a.m. June 22 when a woman noticed someone driving away from her mother's South Morain Street home on her red Toro mower. The mower had been stored in a fenced backyard.
Kennewick officers quickly located Watkins.
The Toro mower was attached to a small red utility trailer, which held a Craftsman wood chipper, a Craftsman tiller, two fishing poles, a Vega bicycle, a Garmin GPS and a portable CD player, court documents said. An orange extension cord ran between the trailer and a second Craftsman riding mower, documents said.
Police later learned that the second mower, the trailer and the other goods were stolen from another homeowner.
Watkins is a convicted bank robber who was sentenced in January 2009 to nearly two years in prison for first-degree theft. In that case, he got $1,700 in cash after handing a Key Bank teller a note that said "no dye packs, no bait money."
Trial delayed for man facing assault charges
RICHLAND — Prosecutors again asked to delay the upcoming trial from a December home invasion, saying they still need additional lab reports.
Karl Goering now will face a jury Aug. 2 on a charge of first-degree assault with sexual motivation.
He is accused of breaking into an apartment at The Villas at Meadow Springs and beating a woman several times with a metal bar.
The woman, who was awake, told police she didn't know the suspect or how he entered her apartment at 4:45 a.m. She had extensive injuries.
Defense attorney Sal Mendoza Jr. previously told the court that tests on a bloody piece of rubber glove found at the scene showed the DNA belonged to someone other than his client. He reiterated Thursday that his client is frustrated.
"We know that he's going to be exonerated of these charges," he said. "The heavy weight of these charges and the consequences -- we just want this resolved."
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; email@example.com