A 32-year-old Liberian woman who came to America as an infant may face deportation after pleading guilty Wednesday to defrauding the government in a bogus income-tax refund scheme.

Nunziata Williams, manager of a hip-hop bar in downtown Minneapolis, admitted recruiting people who set up fictitious tax-preparation companies and bank accounts that were used to steal about $550,000 based on fraudulent tax returns. She said she acted at the direction of a Florida man named Frantz Pierre, who was indicted in September by a federal grand jury.

Williams said she helped create a fake business called C and M Tax Preparation that was used as a front to prepare and submit phony tax returns. Williams said she also helped create a front-company called One Stop Tax Services and four Wells Fargo bank accounts used in the scheme.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen asked Williams if she knew she was breaking the law when she got involved in the tax scam.

"I knew what I was doing," Williams said between sobs. "I'm sorry," she said, trembling. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Williams said she attended St. Bernard's High School in St. Paul until she got pregnant at age 17. She finished her studies at an alternative learning center, studied phlebotomy for a year and attended college for about 18 months. She said she now makes $350 a week at the 400 Soundbar near Target Field.

Williams' plea agreement anticipates a sentence of 46 to 56 months in prison. If she's sentenced within that range, both she and the government agreed not to appeal. Williams is cooperating with the government hoping for reduced sentence.

But prison might not be the end of Williams' problems. Ericksen warned that she might face immigration consequences as a result of her conviction.

Williams, the mother of three boys, is the second Minnesotan to plead guilty in the scheme. A co-defendant, Cassidy McDaniel, 23, of Minneapolis, the titular head of C and M, pleaded guilty earlier this month to obtaining the names, Social Security numbers and other information of unsuspecting people that were used on false 2010 federal income tax returns.

The incorporator of One Stop, Ronnie Bussell, 27, of St. Paul, has not been charged and could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Schommer declined to say how many individuals might face charges in the ongoing investigation.

The indictment against Pierre alleges that he signed a lease agreement for a clothing store in Miramar, Fla., and obtained 1,000 pre-paid debit cards embossed with the name Tax Professors LLC. A co-defendant in that case, Terry Pierre, allegedly submitted phony tax returns to the IRS seeking $2.2 million in refunds to be paid onto the debit cards. They and a third defendant face charges of conspiracy, aggravated identity theft and unauthorized use of the debit cards.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493