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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Green Cove Springs Convenience Store Owner Pleads Guilty To Tax Refund Theft

Jacksonville, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Antoun Arbaji today pleaded guilty to stealing government property described as fraudulently-obtained tax refunds. Arbaji faces a maximum penalty of ten years in federal prison, as well as an obligation to pay back approximately $1,909,403.66 in restitution to the United States. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to the plea agreement, Abas Issa (“Issa”), a co-defendant, owned and operated a convenience store in Green Cove Springs, Florida, known as V&J Stores, Inc.  Arbaji owned and operated another convenience store (“Fina Express”) in Green Cove Springs, a few blocks away.

In 2011, Issa began obtaining both fraudulently-obtained tax refund checks and refund anticipation loan checks from a source in Tampa.  Issa, in turn, located individuals like Arbaji who, for a percentage fee, would cash the checks through their business accounts. After cashing the checks, Arbaji would remit the cash proceeds to Issa.  Issa, in turn, would keep a fee and remit the remainder of the proceeds to the source of the checks in Tampa. During 2011, Arbaji cashed more than $1.5 million in fraudulently-obtained tax refund checks and more than $400,000 in fraudulently-obtained refund anticipation loan checks, using his Fina Express business account. After cashing the checks, he delivered the proceeds to Issa, who, after collecting his fee, delivered the remaining proceeds to a source in Tampa. Many of the fraudulent checks were issued on behalf of individuals who were deceased at the time the tax returns were filed.

According to court records, more than $352,000 was seized from Arbaji’s bank account prior to the return of an indictment in this case. 

     This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mac D. Heavener, III.

Updated January 26, 2015