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 area resident, but the tax preparation service he was operating on Shallowford Road is no longer open.
Gainesville 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 is unclear.
Calls to Wilder for comment were not returned, 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, both in Gainesville.
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 began to question his practices when she didn’t receive a copy of her personal and small business tax filings earlier this year.
He had reportedly promised her a bigger return than she would get with any other service, but in exchange would take a larger share. 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.
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 police.
He also said many other law enforcement and government agencies likely will get involved in the case.