'Tax Lady' Roni Deutch franchisees must fend for themselves

They were her "Zees," franchisees who would take Roni Deutch's self-named tax centers nationwide — a planned 250-store tax-preparation chain to complement her multimillion-dollar tax law firm.

Within months of launching her plans in January 2008, Deutch said she had sold 170 of the franchises. "Zees drive this machine," Deutch told The Bee at the time.

But that once-mighty machine, already sputtering in the past year, broke down completely last Thursday afternoon.

That's when Deutch, the nationally known "Tax Lady," pulled the plug on her North Highlands law practice amid state allegations that she cheated her clients out of millions, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds and destroyed millions of pages of documents in violation of court orders.

Deutch was broke, she told The Bee. The 70 remaining franchises – in 23 states – were left to fend for themselves.

The franchisees "opened the tax centers," Deutch said at her office May 12. "They have full permission to keep them open and use the name. It's up to them to keep the doors open or shut them down."

Now, franchisees who paid an average of $65,000 for a Roni Deutch Tax Center franchise are left to salvage their businesses and distance themselves from the Deutch brand.

"There was an element of surprise," said George De La Mora, who owns a Roni Deutch Tax Center in Elk Grove, of the announcement that the Tax Lady would close the doors on her law firm and surrender her license to practice. "The letdown part was that we worked hard to get where we're at."

One of the original franchise owners, De La Mora is striking out on his own. That's meant reassuring his 500 clients that his doors are still open.

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