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‘Tax Guy Chris’ pleads guilty to $512,000 pandemic unemployment fraud

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(The Center Square) – Christopher Niebel, a former tax preparer known as “Tax Guy Chris,” pleaded guilty to fraud and identity theft related to a pandemic unemployment insurance fraud scheme.

Niebel, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft for using stolen identities to submit fraudulent claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Niebel owned a tax preparation service in Allen Park and worked seasonally as a manager for Party City, where in 2019 he accessed other employee and applicant files such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s I-9 employment verification forms showing personal information including names, social security numbers and dates of birth.

Niebel used the information of employees or applicants who weren’t from Michigan because they likely wouldn’t submit claims to Michigan, and likely wouldn’t notice.

Niebel used personal information to defraud the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to receive benefits at multiple Michigan bank accounts which Niebel spent on food, lodging, lottery tickets, and casino gambling.

Niebel received about $512,000 in pandemic unemployment assistance funds to which he was not entitled.

“Stealing money from pandemic benefit programs is a serious offense that harms both the intended beneficiaries and taxpayers. Doing so by stealing people’s identities further compounds the harm to the public,” U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison said in a statement. “Today’s guilty plea is an important step towards ensuring accountability for Mr. Niebel’s crimes.”

UIA Director Julia Dale said the pandemic fraud schemes were “astounding.”

“At the start of the pandemic, so many people needed help and all Chris Niebel thought about was how he could game the system for his personal gain,” Dale said in a statement. “His actions – and those of more than 160 others charged so far with unemployment fraud – erodes the public’s trust. We won’t let that get in the way of wide-ranging reforms to win back that trust and position the Michigan UIA as a national model for fast, fair, and fraud-free service.”

Sentencing is set for May 21 before United States District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III. Niebel faces a statutory maximum of 20 years imprisonment on the wire fraud count. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a two-year mandatory sentence of imprisonment, which must run consecutively to any custodial time imposed on the wire fraud charge.

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