Gainesville police are investigating a man with a history of fraud charges in a possible scam to steal tax refunds from local clients.
No charges have yet been filed against Richard Wilder in the suspected ruse, which may have ensnared at least one Hall County resident, but the tax preparation service he was operating on Shallowford Road is no longer open.
Police spokesman Kevin Holbrook said investigators have received complaints against Freedom Tax Service and launched a criminal inquiry into the business and its proprietors, which includes Wilder’s father, Donald, in the last week or so.
Wilder was charged in Jackson County in 2012 with theft of tax refunds while operating a similar tax preparation service, and an auto sales lot, in Braselton. He was suspected of having conned dozens of clients out of thousands of dollars. The resolution of that case was unclear Thursday.
Calls to Wilder for comment were not returned as of press time, and the business line for Freedom Tax Service has been disconnected.
Wilder was later involved in EZ Auto Sales on Atlanta Road, as well as an auto brokerage firm on Hilton Drive.
In May 2014, the city issued a certificate of occupancy for Freedom Tax Service.
“It all seemed very legit,” at least at first, resident Savannah Withrow told The Times.
But she later began to think it was all “too good to be true.”
Withrow said she met Wilder sometime in the last two years. He was a frequent customer at the AT&T store she worked at in Gainesville.
Withrow said she trusted Wilder, who was charismatic, a self-described man of God, and that she hoped to get her tax returns in line after years of neglect.
Wilder’s LinkedIn profile lists him as the associate pastor of a church in Vienna, a middle-Georgia town.
Withrow said she even referred clients to Wilder, but began to question his practices when she didn’t receive a copy of her personal and small business tax filings earlier this year.
“I felt like it was weird,” she said, but admits to having little knowledge of the complicated tax process. Withrow said Wilder promised her a bigger return than she would get with any other service, but in exchange he would take a larger share, she said.
Her refund was then received and deposited by Wilder, who in turn cut Withrow a check for only a portion of the total refund direct from the tax service’s account, she said.
Withrow said she is “scared” that she has been scammed out of money and is worried about being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.
“He was so good, so brilliant at this,” Withrow said, adding she hoped telling her story might help others.
Holbrook said investigators are aware of Wilder’s history and are asking anyone who did business with Freedom Tax Service and thinks they may have been victimized to contact the police department.
He also said multiple law enforcement and government agencies would likely be involved as the investigation continues.
“These cases can tend to grow and evolve over time” as more victims are identified and the scale of the fraud is uncovered, Holbrook said.