LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Two Southland men pleaded guilty today to a federal conspiracy charge involving a scheme in which stolen identities were used to file phony tax returns, claiming thousands of dollars in refunds.

Michael Williams, 42, of Palmdale, and 34-year-old Mike Niko of Carson entered their pleas before U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer. They face up to 10 years each in prison at sentencing Sept. 9.

The conspiracy charge stems from a 17-count indictment filed in January 2012 that charged five defendants with conspiring to defraud the United States by filing false federal income tax returns.

The bogus tax returns claimed the First Time Homebuyer Credit and/or the Earned Income Credit, even though the individuals on whose behalf the returns were filed did not authorize or know about the filing of the returns, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors contend Williams, Niko and a co-defendant pretended to be tax preparers and established bank accounts to receive fraudulently obtained refunds.

Among the defendants is a former receptionist at the county Department of Public Social Services office in Lancaster.

The ex-county employee, Veronica Niko, 36, of Lancaster, pleaded guilty in January to a single identity theft violation and admitted that identities she stole were used to file phony returns in the names of 64 different people, causing a loss to the Internal Revenue Service of over $357,000. She is set to be sentenced July 8.

Her husband, co-defendant Thomas “T-Mac” Marshall, 37, also pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy to submit false claims for tax refunds to the IRS. He was previously sentenced to about five years behind bars.

Another defendant, Mao Niko, 40, of Lynwood, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to submit false claims to the IRS, and was sentenced to two years in federal prison.