State sues TV’s ‘tax lady’ for alleged swindles
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
A Sacramento County attorney who bills herself as the “tax lady,” appearing in nationwide television ads offering to help people with tax problems, was sued Monday for $34 million by state Attorney General Jerry Brown for allegedly swindling thousands of people.
Instead of reducing clients’ tax bills, Roni Deutch put people deeper in debt by placing them “in an endless loop of requests” for duplicate documents that resulted in higher fees and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service, and by falsely billing them for services she never rendered, Brown said.
His lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, claims that Deutch made misleading representations and engaged in unfair competition while victimizing thousands of people in California and elsewhere.
An attorney for Deutch did not respond to a request for comment.
Deutch operates a law firm in North Highlands (Sacramento County) that employs 160 people and generates about $25 million a year in revenue while spending $3 million annually on TV and radio ads, the suit said.
Brown said Deutch operates a high-pressure “boiler room” in which sales agents who cannot meet her law firm’s monthly goals are fired. “She screams at and berates sales agents who are not performing adequately,” the suit said.
Sales agents who meet or exceed quotas receive “lavish bonuses and incentives,” including all-expenses-paid trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas, Brown said in court papers.
“Deutch is engaged in a heartless scheme that swindled people with tax problems,” Brown said. “She promises to significantly reduce their IRS tax debts, but instead preys on their vulnerability, taking large up-front payments but providing little or no help in lowering their tax bills.”
Deutch has faced similar allegations before.
In 2006, she agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs that claimed she had misled consumers with TV commercials promising settlements of back-tax problems “for only $20″ or “without paying anything to the IRS.”
Deutch, a graduate of UC Berkeley and Western State University College of Law, has no public record of discipline in California, records show. She was admitted to the State Bar in 1991.
Read more: San Francisco Chronicle