News and Press Releases


Sept. 22, 2010


TOPEKA, KAN. – Five federal agents who investigated an $84 million tax fraud case against Topeka-based Renaissance, the Tax People have received Guardian of Justice Awards, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announced today.

Receiving the awards are:
Chuck Puett, U.S. Postal Inspection Service
Henry Herron, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation
Cindy Marshall, Internal Revenue Service
Sharon Vandenberg, Internal Revenue Service
Booker Leeks, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, retired

“Tens of thousands of people were caught up in the tax fraud these agents uncovered,” Grissom said. “The agents spent countless hours interviewing witnesses, going over thousands of tax returns and deciphering the pyramid scheme that the Renaissance conspirators used to defraud consumers and federal taxpayers.”

In a six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., Renaissance CEO Michael Craig Cooper was convicted on 73 counts including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and money laundering counts. In April 2010, Cooper was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $10.6 million in restitution. Also convicted in the case were Daniel Joel Gleason, a former enrolled agent with the IRS and owner/operator of My Tax Man sentenced to 78 months; Thomas Steelman, a 30-year IRS employee, sentenced to 46 months; Gene Franklin, an owner/operator of tax return preparation business in Kansas City, sentenced to 30 months; Jesse Ayala Cota, a former IRS District Director in California, sentenced to 24 months; and Todd Eugene Strand, sentenced to 51 months; and income tax return preparers Frances Ruth, Elizabeth Crotts, and Alexander Federico.

“Without a doubt, the convictions and lengthy sentences imposed on Cooper and the conspirators would not have been possible but for the outstanding efforts of these agents,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask, who nominated Puett, Herron, Marshall, Vandenberg and Leeks for the awards.

The investigation began in 1999, expanding quickly as investigators began to realize the scope of a fraud that was generating hundreds of thousands of dollars each month for Renaissance.

“The Renaissance conspirators used false claims and slick marketing to make clients believe there was a legal way to turn routine costs of living – the square footage of their homes, the allowance they paid their children, even the money they spent on entertainment and vacations – into business tax deductions,” Grissom said.

Also receiving Guardian of Justice Awards Wednesday were:
Justin Branner, Johnson County Sheriff’s office, who investigated two large drug cases code named Operation Load Runner and Operation Press One.
Doug Dorley, Drug Enforcement Administration, who also investigated the large drug case code named Operation Load Runner.

Guardian of Justice awards are given annually to federal and state or local law enforcement officers in recognition of outstanding service provided in the prosecution of significant cases by the United States Attorney’s office. The awards are the highest recognition given to a member of the law enforcement community by the United States Attorney’s office. Nominations for the awards come from prosecuting attorneys who worked with the nominees.