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Wood Lake couple face tax evasion charges

GRANITE FALLS -- A Wood Lake man who allegedly used his mother's Social Security number while failing to pay state taxes now faces felony criminal charges along with his wife, and together they owe more than $43,000 in back taxes and penalties, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Yellow Medicine County has charged Robert Cunningham, 42, of Wood Lake, with six counts of failing to file returns, six counts of failing to pay taxes, and one count of identity theft for tax years 2002 through 2007. It has charged Ann Marie Cunningham, 43, also of Wood Lake, with two counts of failing to file returns and two counts of failing to pay taxes for 2006 and 2007.

Both defendants have been arraigned during separate appearances in district court, according to Yellow Medicine County Attorney Keith Helgeson. Both have requested legal counsel. They are scheduled to return to court May 18.

The complaint charges that Robert Cunningham earned compensation from a trucking company of more than $153,000 during 2006 and 2007, when the two allegedly did not paid taxes.

An investigation was triggered when Robert Cunningham's mother was contacted by the Internal Revenue Service. It claimed that records showed that she had $133,656 of unclaimed income in 2006 and 2007, according to the criminal complaint.

She discovered that the income came from a trucking company where her son had worked, and that his name was listed with her Social Security number as his identification number, according to the criminal complaint.

An investigator with the Minnesota Department of Revenue subsequently found that Robert Cunningham did not pay taxes on income while working from 2002 through 2007 for two different trucking companies and, most recently, for a farmers cooperative oil company, the complaint charges.

A W-4 form from his employer in 2007 includes his mother's Social Security number with the word "exempt'' written on it; meaning Robert did not have to pay federal or state withholdings on his income, according to the complaint.

The investigator also checked records at two banks at which the Cunninghams had accounts. The agent found deposits totaling $571,379 had been made by the two defendants during the years 2002 through 2007.

Cunningham's mother told investigators that her son had used her Social Security number in the 1990s. After she spoke to him about it, she said he told her he would "take care of it,'' according to the complaint. "(She) stated she asked him why he did it and Robert stated that he does not pay taxes and he never will,'' the complaint quotes her as saying.

Each of the counts for failure to file returns and failure to pay taxes carries possible sentences of five years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines. The identity theft charge carries a possible 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue has a 24-hour tip line at 651-297-5195 or 1-800-657-3500 or by e-mail at Citizen tips resulted in 87 percent of the department's criminal case referrals in 2008, according to the department.