A former Athens County assistant prosecutor pleaded guilty last week in the Southern District Court of Ohio to one count of conspiracy to submit false claims for income tax refunds with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

As a part of the plea agreement, Michael (“Mickey) A. Prisley, 52 of Columbus, agreed to pay more than $250,000 in restitution to the IRS, according to a release sent last week from Benjamin C. Glassman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. Prisley is scheduled for a sentencing hearing in six to eight weeks, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prisley, who grew up in Athens, initially had been indicted by a federal grand jury in Columbus last November on eight charges relating to fraudulent tax claims and theft of government money.

According to the release, Prisley “conspired with others” between the fall of 2009 and September 2015 to defraud the IRS by filing hundreds of false income tax returns in an attempt to obtain tax refunds; he would deposit those refund checks into his bank accounts and withdraw them in order to pay his “co-conspirators” their share, while receiving drugs in exchange for cashing those checks. 

Prisley was a long-time local assistant prosecutor and served in that capacity from Aug. 29, 2011 to Jan. 21, 2014, according to a prior interview with Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn. (He also served in that role through much of the ’90s.)

Blackburn explained that Prisley was terminated “with cause” in January 2014 after being placed on administrative leave in December 2013 when the Prosecutor’s Office became aware that Prisley had a problem with abusing drugs.

“We tried to help him with his addiction, but he was unsuccessful in getting help for that,” Blackburn explained, noting that Prisley at the time was a recovering alcoholic.

Co-defendants Tawnya Writesel (also known as Tawnya Rutan), Amy K. France and Denard T. Nelson were also charged in relation to this case, according to the release. 

• France pleaded guilty in June 2016 to one count of conspiracy to submit false claims and one count of identity theft and was sentenced in January to three years and one month in prison. France was ordered to pay nearly $467,000 in restitution.

• Nelson pleaded guilty in September 2015 to one count of identity theft and was sentenced in May 2016 to five years of probation. He was also ordered to pay more than $87,000 in restitution.

• Writesel was indicted in November 2017 on one count of conspiracy to submit false claims for income tax refunds and four counts of filing false claims for income tax refunds, although her case remains pending, according to the release.

According to the release, Prisley provided those people with “false power-of-attorney forms” so they could cash the fraudulently obtained income tax refunds checks without the taxpayers knowing. Essentially, one of Prisley’s partners in the criminal endeavor (Writesel) would obtain identification information for real people, including their Social Security numbers, and those people were then falsely claimed as dependents, The NEWS previously reported.

“A once trusted criminal prosecutor is now a convicted felon because he chose to line his pockets with stolen income tax refunds,” said Ryan L. Korner in the release. Korner is special agent in charge of this case with the IRS Criminal Investigation Bureau’s Cincinnati office.

Prisley, when reached for a comment in November, told The NEWS that he denied most of the charges against him. He admitted that he had struggled with an opioid addiction (OxyContin in particular) since he had his hip replaced in 2005, and that he had battled that addiction off and on for years. But he claimed that he hadn’t taken an opioid “other than at the hospital” since he got into a suboxone treatment program in “2011 or 2012.” (Prisley didn’t respond to a follow-up phone call about the discrepancy between his account and Blackburn’s.) 

As a result of the false tax return filings, a total of $466,842 in fraudulent income tax refunds was released by the IRS, of which Prisley assisted his co-conspirators in obtaining $250,220, according to the release.

Conspiracy to submit false claims for income tax refunds carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.