ASHEVILLE -- A Polk County couple has pleaded guilty to filing more than 1,000 bogus federal income tax returns, the U.S. Justice Department says.
The couple received more than $3.5 million in returns, prosecutors say.
The two were formally charged last week and entered guilty please in federal court Tuesday, authorities say.
Prosecutors say Senita Birt Dill, 45, and Ronald Jeremy Knowles, 40, of Mill Spring, developed a scheme in which they used computer software to file federal and state tax returns for people, using personal identification -- names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers -- that they apparently had gotten fraudulently.
Investigators say the couple was careful to use figures that would maximize the amount of return and minimize the risk of detection.
According to prosecutors, Dill and Knowles developed an elaborate plan. For example, prosecutors say, they would rent a home on a lake in a neighborhood of vacation homes and use neighboring addresses on the tax returns. Since the vacation homes would be unoccupied most of the time, the defendants were able to check the mailboxes daily and retrieve the tax return checks when they were received.
The defendants also are accused of using addresses in Greenville, S.C., and Greer, S.C., for the fictitious tax returns.
Authorities say the scheme began in 2009 and continued until this year.
Dill has pleaded guilty to false claims conspiracy, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft, according to prosecutors, who add that Knowles entered guilty pleas to false claims conspiracy and access device fraud.
False conspiracy carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Access device fraud has a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Aggravated identity theft carries a maximum two-year prison term.
Sentencing for the two has not been scheduled.