Attorney General: Joliet tax preparers filed phony returns

Authorities allege that a Joliet accounting business filed phony tax returns and bilked the state of more than $400,000.

Gerrie M. Cokenour, 42, and Nycole D. Simms-Stevens, 44, were arrested Wednesday by Joliet police on charges of theft of government property over $100,000 and income tax fraud. Cokenour, of the 1100 block of Trailsend Lane in Joliet, and Simms-Stevens, of the 200 block of Duncan Street in Joliet, are each being held in the Will County jail on $1 million bond.

Illinois attorney general spokeswoman Annie Thompson said Cokenour owned and Simms-Stevens was employed at Tax Advocators Inc., a tax preparation business at 819 W. Jefferson St.

“Since the 2012 tax year, Cokenour and Simms-Stevens allegedly prepared 764 fraudulent state income tax returns,” Thompson said.

The returns contained inflated and fraudulent property tax data and other phony deductions, which cost the state more than $400,000, she said.

“The defendants used their positions as tax preparation ‘experts’ to line their own pockets,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “They will be held accountable for their illegal scheme.”

Both women face six to 30 years in prison if convicted of the theft charge and one to four years if found guilty of fraud.

Thompson said the investigation started when the attorney general’s Consumer Fraud Bureau received consumer complaints regarding undisclosed tax preparation fees and stolen tax refunds.

User reviews left in 2015 on the Tax Buzz website said Tax Advocators “service [was] horrible” and called the business a fraud.

“Don’t use. Had my refunds sent [into] their account and have had my money since March and won’t return my calls, emails or text messages,” one user wrote in July.