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Federal judge orders fourth-largest U.S. tax prep business closed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The fourth-largest tax preparation business in the United States, Instant Tax Service, has been ordered to shut down by a federal judge, the Justice Department said on Thursday.

In a permanent injunction order signed on Wednesday, a federal judge in Ohio said ITS Financial LLC, the parent company of the Instant Tax Service franchise, forged customers' signatures and lied to the government, among other accusations.

Instant Tax Service had about 150 franchisees that filed over 100,000 tax returns in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The company's core customers were the working poor, the court said.

"Defendants' harm to the public is extensive and egregious, indeed appalling," said Judge Timothy Black of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

The sole owner and CEO of ITS Financial, Fesum Ogbazion, was also barred from operating or being involved in any tax preparation business, the judge ruled.

Dayton, Ohio-based ITS Financial was accused by authorities of tax preparation violations last year.

The company could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

"The court's decision sends a clear message to those who might be tempted to abuse the public trust provided to the tax preparer community," said Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel in a statement.

(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Andre Grenon)

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