Each year, taxpayers’ personal information is compromised through phishing scams or by unscrupulous tax preparers. With tax season kicking off on January 24, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) wants taxpayers to be aware of tax-related fraud.
“As the investigative arm of the IRS, we see the impact that fraudsters have on taxpayers,” said Darrell Waldon, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Field Office. “This tax season, we want to remind U.S. taxpayers about ways they can protect their wallets and personal information.”
Tips to avoid tax season fraud include:
- Choose a tax preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who is available year-round.
- Ask your tax preparer for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All paid preparers are required to have one.
- Don’t use a ghost preparer. They won’t sign a tax return they prepare for you.
- Don’t fall victim to tax preparers’ promises of large refunds. Taxpayers must pay their fair share of taxes.
- Don’t sign a blank tax return. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for what appears on tax returns filed with the IRS.
- Make sure you receive your refund. Your refund should be deposited into your bank account, not your tax preparer.
- The IRS will not call you threatening legal action. If you receive a call like this, hang up.
- Don’t respond to text messages, emails or social media posts claiming to be the IRS. They may contain malware that could compromise your personal information.
- Don’t click links or open attachments in unsolicited emails or text messages about your tax return. These messages are fraudulent.
- Protect your personal and financial information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails, or social media posts claiming to be the IRS.
Recent cases of tax preparer fraud:
- D.C. tax return preparer sentenced to 14 months in prison for carrying out a tax scheme
Yohanness Ayechew of Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 14 months in prison last November for filing false tax returns and causing at least $250,000 of loss to the Internal Revenue Service. He and his business partner operated Endalk and Yohannes Associated, L.P. in D.C. since 2011, where he prepared false income tax returns for clients that overstated business expenses and claimed exemptions to give them bigger tax returns than they were entitled to receive.
- Former Maryland tax preparer sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for a tax fraud conspiracy
Anita Fortune, of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison last summer, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution for filing false tax returns using a false ID provided by her co-conspirators. She and her co-conspirators also fabricated, inflated, and improperly claimed deductions on their clients’ returns to inflate their refunds.
For more tips on choosing a tax professional or how to file a complaint against one, visit IRS.gov. Taxpayers who suspect tax violations by a person or business may report it to the IRS using Form 3949A, Information Referral. Taxpayers can report phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or IRS impersonation scams to TIGTA.gov.
This year’s tax season began Monday, January 24, and continues through Monday, April 18 for most taxpayers. U.S. taxpayers are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources and must report all taxable income and pay taxes according to the Internal Revenue Code. Taxpayers found to be committing fraud may be subject to penalties including payment of taxes owed plus interest, fines, and jail time.
IRS-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. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, boasting a nearly 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 11 attaché posts abroad.
McFadden bows out of mayoral race, throws support to Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell
Front Royal Town Councilman Joe McFadden has announced, through a media release from the Warren County Republican Committee, that he is withdrawing from his mayoral campaign.
In a recent release sent by GOP spokesman Steven Kurtz, McFadden wrote, “I have realized that I simply do not have the time required to collect signatures or run a campaign to get elected to the position of Mayor of Front Royal. I also understand that the level of time commitment needed to be Mayor may be more than I would be able to accommodate at this point in my life. When I announced I was running, I asked that you all vet the very best candidate. I’ve been working behind the scenes to do that very thing too.”
McFadden indicated that he and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell “had a long discussion after which we agreed that Lori would take my place and run for Mayor.”
McFadden stated in the release, “Over the past several months, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that Lori is in fact the best choice for the WCRC endorsement and for all Front Royal citizens.”
Contacted by telephone, McFadden told Royal Examiner that he remained committed to serving the citizens but felt he could best serve his constituents by supporting Cockrell in her run. He acknowledged that while the town council and mayoral races are supposed to be nonpartisan, he felt the Warren County Republican Committee would endorse Cockrell’s bid for mayor.
McFadden pointed out in the release that Cockrell “has my full committed support. I hope she will also garner the committee’s support as she collects signatures and campaigns to be the Mayor of Front Royal.”
Royal Examiner reached out to Cockrell, who replied via email, “After much prayer and following a long discussion with many family members and friends, I have decided to seek the endorsement of my party for a term as Mayor of the Town of Front Royal.
In the coming weeks, I plan to meet with the citizens of Front Royal on their doorstep and seek their advice on the direction of the town government over the next two years. Based on those discussions, I intend to propose a series of goals the town could achieve if I am fortunate enough to be elected Mayor. If elected, I will work closely with the council in both settings and achieve those goals. I greatly appreciate Councilman McFadden’s support of my candidacy.”
Mayor Chris Holloway was elected to serve a four-year term from January 2019 to December 2022. He previously served as Councilman from 2008 to 2010 and as Vice Mayor from 2010 to 2012. He indicated earlier this year that he would not launch a mayoral campaign.
In addition to Cockrell throwing her hat into the ring, councilman Gary Gillespie announced his bid for the mayor’s seat earlier this spring.
Strasburg Councilman John Massoud announces candidacy for State Senate
John Massoud recently announced his candidacy for the newly created 1st state senate District, which encompasses Shenandoah, Clarke County, Frederick County, Warren County, and Winchester City.
“After some deliberation and prayers from friends and family, we have decided to run for State Senate,” said Massoud.
“As State Senator, I will be the 21st conservative vote in bringing down Senator Louise Lucas’s Liberal “Brick Wall ” stonewalling Governor Youngkin and Speaker Gilbert’s legislation. I will vote to cut the gas tax, end the grocery tax, restore our constitutional right to bear arms and repeal red flag, support pro-life legislation to end taxpayer-funded abortion and late-term abortion in Virginia, and pass pro parent common-sense policies to put a stop to masking and woke bureaucrats shoving liberal nonsense down our kids’ throats. I will also ensure that ALL Virginian’s religious freedoms are respected and oppose so-called COVID mandates that only mean more government and less liberty.”
Massoud added: “My father moved to America in 1962 after my father was forced to leave because he refused to convert to Islam and renounce his Christian faith. America is the land of promise, but every day radical leftist policies encroach on our religious, social, and personal freedom. I am running because it’s time we stood up and said no to more government, more mandates, and win back Virginia for conservatives. If I am privileged to serve in the State Senate, I will be fighting for our Valley Values in Richmond.
School division proposes grading policy changes, relocating LFK students during construction
The superintendent and staff at Warren County Public School (WCPS) earlier this week detailed proposed plans for an updated division-wide grading policy, as well as where to relocate students during upcoming renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and other division staff provided information and recommendations to Warren County School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins during the board’s Wednesday, May 18 work session.
In discussing updates to the grading policy, Ballenger told the board that he has been meeting with three committees of teachers and administrators from elementary, middle, and high schools to revise the current policy, which most recently was updated in January 2018.
Ballenger’s presentation to the School Board included the recommended changes by each of the committees at the respected level, and he said a final draft will be presented to the board for consideration.
“We have been able to put out a decent product that teachers are proud of,” Ballenger said about the draft grading policy document.
One of the “biggest changes,” he said, includes the addition of definitions for several terms, including ‘no credit,’ which is defined as a zero for an assignment in middle or high school.
Ballenger explained that all three committees felt it was important to define what no credit means. “It means that you’re not getting anything,” he said. “We needed to make sure that students, parents, teachers, and everybody understood that no credit means a zero.”
For instance, the proposed high school grading policy states that credit will only be given for assignments that are attempted. No credit will be awarded for any assignments that are not attempted.
At the teacher’s discretion, students may be permitted to make up, retake, and/or correct material in a timely manner as appropriate to the course pacing, and students must schedule a time with the teacher that may fall outside of the course’s normal class time, according to the draft document.
The goal, said Ballenger, is to “make sure students take some responsibility for their grades.”
Pence, who said she appreciated the work that’s gone into drafting an updated grading policy, said: “This is going to be a hard year for some students, but hopefully, this gets them better prepared for the real world and college.”
WCPS is now seeking public input on this and all of the proposed grading policy changes. Click here to read through the draft policy.
Draft grant applications presented
WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, and WCPS Coordinator Title I & Title III Donna Boies presentation to School Board members with details for the school division’s Title I, II, III, and IV draft grant applications.
The Title I-A, II-A, III-A, and IV-A applications seek federal funding to improve basic instructional programs, teacher and principal training and recruiting, support for language instruction for English learners, and to increase the capacity of school divisions to provide all students with access to a well-rounded education, according to the administrators.
While no motion was needed on Wednesday from the School Board, Rudacille and Boies said a motion and vote for approval of the grant applications will be requested at the board’s June 1, meeting. They wanted to give board members a chance to go through the draft applications now before making any decision on them next month.
Where will LFK students go?
Division staff pointed out that with the construction of the LFK renovations scheduled to start in January 2023, there are several considerations to make now prior to the start date so that the board can make decisions and parents can be notified. Students will be relocated beginning in August, they said.
“We have to have a plan in place,” said Ballenger, who added that staff is looking at its options and what would be the best choices to ensure consistency for students, as well as accommodating for construction.
For instance, one of the challenges is limited space on the LFK property site that will not allow for modular buildings to be utilized for the duration of the project, which is slated to be completed by August 2024, said Livesay.
Ballenger added that the topography at LFK also poses an issue since the school is on a hill. And it’s not feasible to put a modular unit on the asphalt where it would take up parking spaces. Livesay noted associated additional costs to installing modulars, as well.
LFK Assistant Principal Jessica Vacca agreed with Ballenger’s recommendation to relocate fifth-grade students to Warren County Middle School during specific construction phases. The school’s administrators have experience with such a move because that’s what was done during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when students had to socially distance themselves.
Having a school with over 530 students, no walls, and no doors made it difficult to keep students at LFK during the pandemic, so the fifth graders went to the middle school. Vacca said that students and parents did well with that strategy.
Relocating pre-kindergarteners is also a consideration, said Hirsch. Some of the options suggested included moving their classes into available spaces at other elementary schools during renovations or to the Riverton United Methodist Church, which has offered class space to WCPS.
Hirsch noted that there are many students with disabilities among the incoming class of preschoolers who will need specific accommodations, as well, and he noted that minimizing their transitions is key.
Smith said there are also bus considerations to make, as well as food service, access to a nurse, ensuring the facility is ADA compliant, that there are sufficient communications available, and green space for outdoor play. “These are just some of the challenges to overcome,” he said.
Rinaldi said he supports the division’s current plan and recommendations and added that there’s always room for adjustments to be made.
Laurel Ridge partners with Opportunity Scholars to bring more education and career training opportunities to students
Laurel Ridge Community College on Wednesday signed an agreement with Opportunity Scholars that will open the door to higher education and career training for more students who come from families with lower and middle incomes.
Opportunity Scholars provides the up-front costs of education and career training – including short-term training – to Winchester and Frederick County students who plan to pursue jobs in their own communities in one of the following high-demand, high-skill areas: public service, healthcare, education, business, IT and trades.
Laurel Ridge President Kim Blosser said Knox Singleton, CEO of Opportunity Scholars, reached out to her in early 2018, shortly after she became president. He told her he was very interested in helping secure educations for young people. The two met shortly after and discussed the barriers to education many young people face.
“Knox is a great listener and he and I talked about the support systems that are often missing, and how those missing supports keep students from achieving all they can,” Dr. Blosser said.
She said it has been proven that “it’s better to be born rich than smart” when it comes to an individual’s later socio-economic status.
“We simply have to change that,” said President Blosser. “There is no reason these smart kids who just need the extra social and emotional and financial supports to be successful can’t achieve all they’re capable of achieving.”
Singleton said he was fortunate to be born into a middle-class family, which afforded him many opportunities.
“You don’t get to pick your parents, you don’t get to pick where you’re born,” he said. “This is really about the American dream.”
Nearly half of area students don’t further their education beyond high school, according to Singleton.
“At Opportunity Scholars, that is our mission,” he said. “We want to step in with that half, and we want to help them get an education. We have wonderful partners who will make that happen.”
As part of the agreement, Opportunity Scholars will pay for and provide personal, career and academic mentoring for high school and college preparation, as well as most of the expenses related to earning a degree or certification. Opportunity Scholars staff will articulate transfer pathways from Laurel Ridge to Shenandoah University for those careers that require a bachelor’s degree.
2019 Millbrook High School graduate Tihany Martinez-Gonzalez said she hopes to become an English as a Second Language teacher with the help of Opportunity Scholars.
“Before I met Opportunity Scholars, I was worried – where was my career going to go, was I going to be able to go to school?” she said. “I couldn’t afford it.”
When she arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador, Martinez-Gonzalez didn’t speak English, and learning ESL is difficult, she said.
“When I saw a lot of kids needed help [with ESL], I thought, I want to do that, too,” she said of her decision to teach English.
Del. Mark Keam, who represents Virginia’s 35th District, and has previously served as vice chair of the Finance Committee and chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee, was impressed by the program.
“This is such an amazing opportunity that you’re creating, not just for our students, but for the entire region,” he said.
Del. Keam said he’d like to see Opportunity Scholars extend around Virginia. Rather than thinking of education as a product, we should be thinking of it as part of the nation’s infrastructure, he said.
“It’s the backbone for every other service that America needs,” said Del. Keam.
Learn more about the program at opportunityscholars.org.
Chamber welcomes Garcia & Gavino to Front Royal
Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with Town Manager Steven Hicks, Board of Supervisor Chair Cheryl Cullers, Chamber Board Vice-CHair Bryon Biggs, and friends welcomed Garcia & Gavino Bakery at 40 E. 8th Street to the Front Royal community.
Garcia & Gavino is a locally owned & family-run business. Melissa Garcia and Ivan Gavino, along with son Seth say their goal is to bring family heritages and traditions and incorporate them into favorite treats. They specialize in sweets, but their tamale fairies make regular visits to bring delicious specials and occasional keto-friendly treats to us.
Their new hours are: Tuesday – Thursday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, Friday, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
School Board approves pending $1.9M in bonuses for WCPS employees
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, May 18 meeting, unanimously approved more than $1.9 million to be used to pay a one-time bonus to all full-time and part-time employees of Warren County Public School (WCPS). The Warren County Board of Supervisors also must weigh in on the request.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted yea to the recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger to approve giving full-time employees a net payment of $1,500 and part-time employees a net payment of $750. Employees hired on or after January 1, will receive a net payment of one-half of the approved amount, Ballenger said.
The superintendent pointed out that the School Board’s approval is contingent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the necessary transfer of funds between categories for the School Board to execute the payments.
The estimated cost of the bonus ($1,908,452) would be paid with approved fiscal year 2022 budget savings primarily generated from the inability of the school division to fill several positions during the school year, lag pay savings from when an employee leaves and their replacement is hired, and staff turnover savings said Ballenger.
The School Board also, on Wednesday evening, unanimously approved other purchases contingent on the appropriation of funding from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
For instance, board members voted to approve a $343,600 contract award to Black Stone Roofing LLC, which will replace the membrane roof at the Blue Ridge Technical Center.
WCPS Director of Maintenance Greg Livesay told the board that the existing membrane roof has developed multiple leaks over the years, with previous repair attempts being unsuccessful. He said WCPS staff posted bid invitations online at the end of March, and a pre-bid meeting was conducted on April 13 that brought in eight contractors.
Livesay said five bids were received on April 29, with Black Stone Roofing “being the lowest, most-responsive bidder at $343,600.” The project could to ready to start in early to mid-June and completed within a four-to-six-weeks timeframe, depending on the weather, he said, adding that the contractor has the needed materials in hand, “so there are no lead time issues getting this project started.”
The board also approved the $96,117 purchase of additional Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) kits for all elementary schools and Brighter Futures. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, said LLI was implemented this school year at all elementary schools to help address the reading gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning.
The Fountas & Pinnell LLI System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading a challenge, Rudacille said, adding that the goal of LLI is to lift the literacy achievement of students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading.
“Schools have requested the purchase of additional LLI kits to support more students in the coming school year and, in the case of Hilda J. Barbour, which has used the program for many years, to also update and replace worn materials,” said Rudacille.
Additionally, the School Board approved a contract to New Virginia Tractor of Winchester, Va., in the amount of $27,903.26 to purchase two John Deere Zero Turn Mowers.
“In order to assume responsibility for the grounds maintenance for both high schools effective July 1, the Facilities Maintenance Department will need to purchase two zero-turn mowers,” said Livesay. “The existing equipment that was provided to Warren County when they assumed responsibility will remain in use by the County as they are responsible for the grounds maintenance at the middle and elementary school until April 2023.”
The board also approved a WCPS recommendation that the superintendent is authorized to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors approve several fiscal year 2022 Operating Fund category transfers.
“It’s an evening up of the money. A bookkeeping move to move money into the right categories so that we don’t overspend,” said Ballentine.
Additionally, the School Board approved, with gratitude, two new scholarships.
The Limeton United Methodist Church Scholarship will offer $2,500 to one graduating senior at both Warren County High School (WCHS) and Skyline High School (SHS) to attend Lord Fairfax Community College, which soon takes on its new name, Laurel Ridge Community College. According to Ballenger, additional criteria is that one scholarship will be awarded at each school; students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school, and awards will go to students in need due to financial hardship.
Reaching Out Now (RON) will provide $500 scholarship awards through the creation of its new Harlee Anne Hire Scholarship Program to support and encourage student-athletes at WCPS. Two awards of $500 each will be made during the 2021-2022 academic school year through the RON Endowment Program to a student-athlete at WCHS and at SHS, said Ballenger. The program’s main goal is to offer financial support to a current senior athlete at WCHS and SHS and “to encourage serious and deserving students to continue their studies after graduation,” he said.
The new scholarship program is named for Hire, 16, who died earlier this month. She would have been a 2024 SHS graduate. Ballenger said she played right field and was a catcher for the SHS Varsity Softball team. “Harlee loved sports” and “also had a servant’s heart,” said Ballenger, noting that Hire had earned the most service hours volunteering for the RON Girls of Destiny Program.
For next time
The School Board tabled action on the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) revised policy GCL Professional Staff Development.
Every employee holding a license issued by the Board of Education is required to complete cultural competency training, in accordance with guidance issued by the Board of Education, at least every two years, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith.
Each employee required to complete cultural competency training also must complete at least one such training no later than the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Smith told School Board members, noting that this was a July 2021 policy revision of the approved May 2021 GCL policy.
WCPS staff have communicated with representatives from the Virginia Department of Education for an update on the module that has been approved and revised by Gov. Youngkin’s administration, which Smith said is set to release the new module “within the next week or so.”
Board member Salins suggested tabling action on the item because the new module has not been released yet. “We would be voting on something that we can’t even read yet,” she said.
But board member Lo said that because teacher licensure is attached to the policy action, “it’s not up to us; we have to pass this.”
Board Chair Pence said that action on the item can be taken by the School Board during its work session in June when members should have a copy of the module.