Nearly 1K people victimized in multi-million dollar tax fraud scheme

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CANTON, Ohio -- It has been a bad deal for nearly a thousand people near Canton affected by a multi-million dollar fraud conspiracy.

The wrong hands got a hold of personal information and allegedly used it to file false tax returns.

According to a federal indictment that came down on Thursday, many victims were approached at church, with guidance from church leaders. It is unclear if all leaders knew about the fraud.

The indictment also states victims were told they would get stimulus money from the government for tax credits they deserved.

So they applied, with guidance from church leaders, using personal information -- and it wasn't used for good.

"It was a multi-state scheme to steal millions of dollars from the IRS by taking advantage of programs designed to help working people, " said Justin Roberts, who is an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.

According to the indictment, an Atlanta area woman operated a $4.8 million multi-state fraud conspiracy.

Thursday's indictment alleges Zinara Highsmith recruited help from religious leaders across the country to get churchgoers to apply for stimulus money back in 2011.

Authorities explain the suspect wasn't ever anywhere near Canton -- but the scheme affected many people there because the suspect was able to obtain personal information.

"Church is an environment where people trust what they are being told and are more prone to believe what they're being told in that environment, and they were told that this is part of the stimulus program. They were not told this worker to be tax returns filed in their name," Roberts said.

A Canton pastor was allegedly involved according to the indictment, but it is unclear what that person's role is in the situation.

However, Highsmith is currently accused of filing the claims through her own tax prep service and getting paid.

Roberts tells Fox 8 this is an ongoing investigation, so a lot of questions are unanswered, including the name of the local pastor and the names of the victims.

Fox 8 was told the victims did receive money, supposedly from the government but didn't know the money was fraudulent.

Fox 8 was told more indictments could follow.

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