HARRISONBURG — A federal judge denied a Harrisonburg woman’s request to travel to Cuba as she awaits sentencing for preparing fraudulent tax returns.
Mercedes Rodriguez Varens, 55, was convicted by a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg on March 7 on 13 felony counts of aiding or assisting the preparation of fraudulent or false statements.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 13. Varens faces up to 39 years in prison but is free from the Rockingham County Jail on a $10,000 bond. Rodriguez Varens made the travel request to help her mother.
“Based on Varens’ strong connections to Cuba, including her citizenship, ownership of real property, and family ties, her travel there creates a substantial risk of flight,” Judge Elizabeth Dillon wrote in an order filed Monday. “Moreover, Varens’ asserted reason for travel is not compelling here, as her daughter or husband, or other family member or friend, may accompany her mother to Cuba.”
Varens’ attorney filed a motion on Sept. 19 claiming her 88-year-old mother, who is a Cuban national, needs to return to Cuba for medical care that’s too expensive in the U.S. and to retrieve retirement money from the Cuban government.
The motion stated that Varens would be the only person who would be able to take her mother to Cuba.
Last week, prosecutors filed a response to the motion.
“In light of her approaching sentencing date, allowing the defendant to travel to Cuba will create a substantial risk of flight, and there are no conditions the court could impose that would reasonably assure her return to the United States,” prosecutors wrote in response to the motion.
A grand jury issued the indictment against Varens on Sept. 18, 2018. It was unsealed Nov. 2 upon her arrest.
Prosecutors say Varens knowingly prepared false tax returns from 2012 to 2013.
Court documents don’t state where she was employed, but an online search showed she is associated with CDL Inc. on Old Furnace Road.
Federal authorities say she prepared tax returns with roughly $165,000 in deductions for which the taxpayers didn’t qualify.
In one case, in March 2013, according to the indictment, Varens filed a tax return for a client for tax year 2012. Prosecutors say Varens claimed false unreimbursed employee expenses totaling $21,292.
In other tax returns, according to the indictment, Varens falsely claimed dependents for clients and misrepresented their filing status as heads of households.
It’s unclear if the clients knew she falsely prepared the returns.