Former Florida Salesperson Sentenced to Jail for Tax Fraud Conspiracy
Dr. Ellen Meredith Stubenhaus, previously of Lake Worth, Fla., and later an expatriate living in Costa Rica, was sentenced to 60 months in prison today by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in Tallahassee, Fla., the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced. Stubenhaus, who was extradited from Costa Rica to the United States in September 2011, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. In addition to her jail sentence, Stubenhaus was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $373,549 to the IRS.
According to the plea agreement and court records, Stubenhaus was a salesperson with Pinnacle Quest International (also known as PQI or Quest International). PQI was a multi-level marketing organization that operated a marketplace for a variety of vendors. Trial evidence in related cases showed that over a six year period between 2002 and 2008, PQI had over 11,000 members throughout the United States.
Stubenhaus admitted in court records that several PQI vendors sold bogus theories and strategies for tax evasion. She utilized the services and schemes of these fraudulent vendors to conceal her own income from selling PQI vendor products and PQI memberships. She also admitted to helping the principals of PQI conceal PQI’s income.
As Stubenhaus admitted in the statement of facts, one of the vendors operating under the PQI umbrella was the Southern Oregon Resource Center for Education (SORCE), which assisted its customers in the creation of a series of nominee business entities in the United States and Panama. The CEO of SORCE, Eugene “Gino” Casternovia, is serving a seven year prison sentence after being convicted at trial of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. His case is currently on appeal.
Court documents also showed that another PQI vendor was MYICIS, a computerized “warehouse bank.” MYICIS was a single bank account in which customers secretly pooled their money under the control of a single individual, Wayne Hicks. MYICIS had 3,000 clients and approximately $100 million in deposits over a three-year period. MYICIS was promoted to PQI’s clients as a method to hide their assets from the IRS as a result of the secret, pooled nature of the account. Wayne Hicks is currently serving a five year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
According to the plea agreement and statement of facts, Stubenhaus established nominee corporations in Panama using the services of SORCE. She then opened a sub-account within the MYICIS warehouse bank in the name of one of her offshore corporations. Substantial portions of the income Stubenhaus earned from selling PQI memberships and PQI’s various vendor products was routed through the warehouse bank account, thereby concealing it from the depository bank and from the IRS. From there, Stubenhaus wired significant amounts of money offshore. She also used the warehouse bank to transfer significant sums to the principals of PQI, representing the organization’s share of the profits from Stubenhaus’s sales of PQI memberships. Stubenhaus also did not file federal income tax returns nor pay income taxes while she was affiliated with PQI.
Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division, commended the efforts of special agents of the IRS, who conducted the nationwide investigation of PQI, and Tax Division Trial Attorney Jonathan Marx, who prosecuted the case.