A local woman pleaded guilty Thursday to federal identity theft and fraud charges and acknowledged owing restitution of almost $240,000.

Joann C. Rittall, 43, of Gardiner and formerly of Augusta, entered the pleas in U.S. District Court in Bangor before Justice John A. Woodcock Jr.

She was freed on a personal recognizance bond after the proceedings, according to court records.

The identity theft charge carries a maximum prison term of 15 years. The charge of making false claims against the government carries a maximum term of five years in prison.

According to the prosecution’s version of events, Rittall helped more than 20 people — identified in court filings by a first name and last initial —  file claims under Maine’s Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund “Circuit Breaker” Program beginning in 2005.

Then, using their personal data, she fraudulently filed federal income tax returns claiming refunds in their names in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and saying they worked for one or more local employers: The Wolfington Group, Kmart Corp., Maine Professional Road Service, J&S Oil Co., Bega Inc., and Romad Inc.

She also claimed her children were dependents of some of those people. For several years, she claimed she and some of her children were dependents of people who actually spent the entire year in prison, according to filings by Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Lowell.

Rittall then directed the refunds to be sent electronically to bank accounts she had opened.

By 2012, it appears investigators had caught on, and the Internal Revenue Service did not issue refunds for the seven fraudulent claims she filed for the 2011 tax year.

Under a plea agreement, Rittall is to repay almost $220,000 to the U.S. Treasury and almost $20,000 to the state of Maine.

Rittall has previous convictions in state court for operating after suspension, theft by deception and negotiating a worthless instrument.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
badams@centralmaine.com