The IRS estimates it paid $99 billion to $119 billion in improper payments for the earned income credit alone from fiscal year 2003 through 2011, according to the report, which says the IRS has no estimate for improper payments of other credits.
The Hope education credit, also known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, was the subject of a 2011 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which said billions of dollars in the credits were being erroneously paid.
The $2,500 credit, designed to offset the costs of higher education, became refundable up to $1,000 in 2009, the same year investigators say Wilson started committing tax fraud.
IRS Inspector General J. Russell George told the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee in 2011 that the IRS requires no documentation to prove eligibility for the education credit. The inspector general's 2011 report found, in part, that in 2010, 1.7 million tax filers received $2.6 billion in education credits with no supporting documentation in IRS files that they attended school.
The other credit mentioned on fraudulent tax returns linked to Wilson -- the undistributed long-term capital gains credit -- is not refundable and has not been the subject of an inspector general report. But it has been a known source of abuse.
That credit is normally used by regulated investment companies and real estate investment trusts to report taxes withheld by the companies and paid to the IRS. But in at least one case in 2004, authorities said the credit was used in a tax scam claiming an illegal tax credit for slavery reparations.
The criminals "have it down to a little bit of a science to where you can get back a desired amount," said Crumpler of the sheriff's office. Wilson "found herself using certain credits to get that desired amount."