One-time Orange County tax preparer convicted of tax fraud scheme that sought over $10 million from IRS and dozens of state governments


Date: November 28, 2023


Santa Ana, CA — A former Orange County tax preparer was convicted today of federal criminal charges for leading a multi-year tax fraud conspiracy that spanned three continents and claimed more than $10 million from the IRS and dozens of state tax authorities.

Stephen Jake McGonigle of Victorville, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. A federal jury returned the guilty verdicts at the conclusion of an eight-day trial.

According to evidence presented during the trial, McGonigle recruited others, including two co-defendants who previously pleaded guilty, to help convince the IRS and dozens of state governments to issue millions of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds.

To perpetrate the massive fraud scheme that began in 2013, McGonigle sent one co-defendant to Thailand to obtain fake identification documents that used stolen victim identities, and then he directed co-conspirators to use those fake identifications to obtain prepaid debit cards, as well as numerous commercial mailboxes across Orange County and elsewhere. After having the prepaid debit cards sent to these untraceable mailboxes, McGonigle and his co-conspirators filed fraudulent tax returns using the identity theft victims' Social Security numbers. Those fraudulent tax returns sought millions of dollars in tax refunds to be deposited into these prepaid debit cards or other bank accounts that they controlled.

With more than a decade of tax preparation experience in Southern California, McGonigle used his knowledge to lead the fraud scheme. The IP addresses used to file the fraudulent returns were traced back to various office spaces leased by McGonigle and to Costa Rica, where law enforcement surveillance and travel records showed that McGonigle and his co-conspirators opened an office and hired employees to help file additional fraudulent returns.

United States District Judge James V. Selna scheduled a March 4, 2024 hearing, at which time McGonigle will face a statutory maximum sentence of 22 years in federal prison. Prosecutors have secured guilty pleas from two co-defendants, who are also scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months.

IRS Criminal Investigation (CI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) investigated this matter. The Missouri Department of Revenue and the U.S. Secret Service provided substantial assistance during the investigation.

Assistant United States Attorneys Sue Bai of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section and Colin Scott of the General Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.

CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, obtaining a more than a 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.