Tax Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Identity Theft
Over $15 Million in Fraudulent Tax Refunds Filed for “Stimulus Payments”
ATLANTA – Kevin J. Sonnier pleaded guilty today to filing false federal income tax returns using stolen identities that claimed millions of dollars in bogus refunds.
“The career of a tax cheat who victimized over 15,000 individuals is over,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “This defendant will also forfeit millions in ill-gotten tax refunds. This year we have devoted significant resources to address this growing problem and to taking these criminals off the streets.”
“Today’s announcement exemplifies IRS Criminal Investigation’s intense focus and the rigorous pursuit of identity theft and refund fraud,” said Veronica Hyman-Pillot, Special Agent in Charge. “These criminals must be and will continue to be pursued in order to obtain justice for the victims as well as justice for our nation.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is charged with protecting the U.S. mail from illegal use. Postal Inspectors will remain steadfast in this mission and will continue to partner with other law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring resolution and justice to individuals who continue to take advantage of the system.” said Keith Morris, Postal Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court; from approximately July 2010 to January 2013, Sonnier, 44, of Ellenwood, Ga., operated “Sonnier Tax Service,” a tax preparation business in Clayton County, Ga. Sonnier, working with others, led thousands of victims to believe that they could apply for “stimulus payments” from the federal government by providing their names and Social Security numbers. Sonnier used toll-free telephone numbers and web sites to advertise the “stimulus payments” and collect victims’ personal information. He also recruited “runners” who promoted the scheme by word of mouth and collected victims’ personal information for Sonnier’s use.
In actuality, no stimulus payment existed and Sonnier used the victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns on their behalf that claimed over $15 million in bogus refunds. On the returns, Sonnier claimed false income amounts, student credits, and earned income credits to receive the bogus tax refunds. The victims did not know that Sonnier had filed tax returns in their names. Sonnier used the profits generated from this scheme for his own personal benefit, including the purchase and improvement of real estate throughout the state of Georgia.
As part of the plea agreement, Sonnier has agreed to forfeit his interest in 17 separate pieces of real estate located throughout Clayton County, thousands of dollars that were previously seized from his bank accounts, and over 80 electronic devices and items of jewelry that were previously seized by the government. In addition, Sonnier agreed to a money judgment of at least $7 million and full restitution to the IRS.
Sonnier pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The wire fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and the aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence to any other sentence imposed. Each count also carries a fine of up to $250,000.
In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Sentencing is scheduled for September 26, 2013, at 10 a.m. before United States District Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr.
This case is being investigated by Special Agents of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and Postal Inspectors with the United States Postal Inspection Service. If you believe you may be a victim of tax return-related identity theft, please contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245 (Mon. - Fri., 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. local time).
Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen H. McClain and Thomas J. Krepp are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.