4

Scott Howard: Inmate's history of obtaining bogus refunds tip of prison-tax-fraud iceberg

^
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

This week's cover story, "The Devil's Playground," recounts the ordeal of Scott Howard, a Colorado inmate extorted and sexually assaulted by the 211 Crew prison gang. But it's also about Howard's history of obtaining bogus tax refunds while behind bars, a talent the gang was eager to exploit. Rape is ugly, but tax fraud is a booming business in the Big House -- and a deal reached yesterday by the IRS and the federal prison system may help shut it down.

According to this report by the Associated Press, more than 44,000 fraudulent tax returns were filed by state and federal prisoners in 2009, seeking refunds of $295 million -- compared to a mere $68 million five years before. Unlike the scam the 211 Crew pressured Howard to join, which involved an audacious scheme to raise $300,000 to defend gang leaders facing indictments, most of the bogus refund requests are for a few thousand dollars.

In theory, the Internal Revenue Service has the tools to alert prison officials of suspicious claims. But efforts to share information were hindered by provisions of the tax law designed to keep taxpayers' confidential financial information from being passed around other government agencies. So lawmakers have pressed the IRS and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to come up with a way to work around the "privacy issues." The new agreement was signed Wednesday and is expected to serve as a model for similar arrangements between the IRS and state prison agencies.

Now if officials could only crack down on the other little problem illustrated by Howard's account -- the conspiracy of silence around prison rape and the utter lack of enforcement (or interest) by prison officials regarding inmates who prey upon other inmates. It's been eight years since the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and draft guidelines have only just emerged for the enforcement standards the feds are still mulling over.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Prison advice about snitching, shanks and pretending that man with makeup is a woman."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.