The operators of a tax-prepration firm once based in Brick Township are charged with cheating the U.S. government out of millions of dollars through bogus Internal Revenue filings for New Jersey prisoners, and keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit profits from the scheme.

Kamal J. James, known as "Bro Messiah Aziz El," and Crystal G. Hawkins, known as "Sis. Crystal Gabri El," were arrested by agents of IRS Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) at Hawkins's home in Laurel, Delaware, according to details from the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. They're charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States.

James and Hawkins operate Release Refunds, originally in Brick and later in Seaford, Delaware.

Prosecutors say they solicited thousands of prisoners, submitting 2,432 false returns with refund claims totalling $4,402,288 from October 2011 until this month. The IRS paid refunds totalling $1,779,910.16.

The alleged scheme netted the pair hundreds of thousands in profits, investigators say. They further charge that marijuana plants and a firearm were found in the house during the arrests.

Information in the complaint states that James and Hawkins sent advertising flyers to New Jersey prisons to solicit tax-prep business, inducing inmates to provide basic identificationdata and sign IRS documents without filling in their own income information. Prosecutors assert that James and Hawkins inflated the figures.

The scheme was uncovered, say authorities, by an undercover IRS-CI agent assuming the role of an inmate. Investigators say the agent received blank forms and instructions to sign; was not instructed to give financial information; and was given income data fabricated by James and Hawkins for tax years 2010 through 2012.

The bogus return resulted in a refund of several thousand dollars and a fee for the pair of $1,485, investigators say.

James was kept in custody, according to Fishman's office, while Hawkins was expected to be released on a $250,000 bond. Conviction would mean a possible prison sentence of 10 years and fines as high as $250,000 or twice the amount of illicit gain.