Crooked tax preparer fled to Indiana, finally sentenced to 46 months

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The tale of the outlaw tax preparer Rona Griffin has come to an end. After being on the run for nearly a month and then filing a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, Griffin is finally off to prison.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Burke sentenced Griffin Wednesday to 46 months in prison. The sentence was double what the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines called for, but was the sentence she agreed to with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office when she pleaded guilty in January to 17 counts of preparing fraudulent taxes and failing to pay her own taxes.
 
“Rona Griffin did it all,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “She cheated the State of Minnesota out of $1.7 million. She cost her clients money by filing fraudulent tax returns that got them higher refunds than they deserved, but which they later had to pay back. And then she fled the state before her sentencing, planning to start a new life in Indiana. But our office, with the help of other law enforcement agencies, have been persistent and we did not rest until we got our woman.”

The Griffin saga began in 2013 when agents from the Minnesota Department of Revenue began investigating her tax preparation business, which she ran out of her Champlin home, and later her Minneapolis home. In early 2015, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged her with 53 counts including failing to file her own tax returns despite making $150,000 to $200,000 per year.

On the eve of her trial in January, Griffin pleaded guilty to the 17 counts and admitted to a number of aggravating circumstances. They included that the scheme required a higher level of sophistication, she abused a position of trust, she forged documents to cover up the fraud, she had multiple victims over multiple years and she sent a letter to the Department of Revenue falsely stating that her only income was from child support and social security.

Those circumstances allowed for a longer prison term and sentencing was set for April 7. However, on March 28, the county attorney’s office received information that Griffin was preparing to flee. A hearing on her conditional release was scheduled for April 1. Griffin did not show then or at another hearing April 4 and a bench warrant was issued.

Three investigators, one from the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, one from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and one from the county’s welfare fraud office went to work. They learned that Griffin bought a new Jeep in February, after she pleaded guilty.

They also tracked her through an old electronic benefits transfer card she was still using. That led them to a pharmacy in Anderson, Indiana, where police obtained video surveillance that showed her car and license plate. She was arrested on April 21. The investigators also learned that Griffin signed a lease for a house in Anderson on April 4, the day she was supposed to be sentenced. And she used the names of the clients she had cheated as proof that she had income to pay the rent.

Prior to leaving the state, Griffin had filed motions to withdraw her guilty plea and replace her attorney. Wednesday, she dropped those motions and moved to sentencing. Griffin declined to say anything at her sentencing.