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Monday, September 8, 2014

Former Maryland Resident Sentenced for His Role in $3.7 Million Advance Fee Scheme and Tax Evasion

Victimized Religious Groups as Part of the Scam

A Corona, California, man was sentenced today to serve six years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release in connection with a fraudulent advance fee scheme and tax evasion. 


Shannon Johnson, 51, formerly of Laytonsville, Maryland, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow, who also entered an order that Johnson forfeit $3.7 million, and as a special condition of his supervised release, cooperate with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in determining all taxes owed for tax years 2002 through 2009, and to pay the IRS all additional taxes, interest and penalties.


The sentence was announced by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ronald Cimino of the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division; U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein for the District of Maryland;; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Kelly of the IRS - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C., Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the FBI.


Johnson admitted that he ran a fraudulent advance fee scheme from 2006 to 2009, wherein Johnson presented himself as a wealthy international investment banker who could provide millions of dollars and euros in financing to businesses and individuals.  In return for substantial advance banking fees, Johnson and his wife, Yvette, promised to provide investors with money which they claimed they held in an overseas bank account.  Shannon Johnson provided these businesses and investors with false documents purporting to be from the overseas bank to authenticate the funds.  The Johnsons developed relationships with pastors, ministers and religious-based organizations to sell themselves as philanthropists on a humanitarian mission.  Shannon Johnson received payments and gifts from pastors and ministers who believed substantial donations would be made to their churches.  Businesses and individuals wired and mailed the advance fees to multiple bank accounts controlled by the Johnsons in different states.  Yvette Johnson opened bank accounts and conducted financial transactions using proceeds obtained from the Johnsons’ business activities.


According to his plea agreement, despite receiving approximately $3.7 million in advance fees from individuals and businesses, Shannon Johnson never provided the promised financing.  Instead, the Johnsons used the money to support their lifestyle, which the indictment alleges included the purchase of Bentley, Mercedes Benz and BMW automobiles, the leasing of a $3.5 million residence in California for $18,000 a month, travel on private jets and the funding of the mortgage on their Laytonsville residence.  Johnson admitted that he obtained $3.7 million by victimizing at least 11 individuals and businesses.


The Johnsons also evaded taxes on millions of dollars in income they earned from the advance fee scheme.  The Johnsons admitted that they filed individual tax returns for tax years 1998 through 2001 using false Forms W-2 to fraudulently generate a total of $66,097 in refund claims; evaded the payment of their 2002 through 2006 corporate and individual taxes totaling $98,220; and evaded the assessment of their 2007 through 2009 taxes.  The Johnsons attempted to conceal their income and assets from the IRS by selling assets in their own names, titling assets in the names of nominees, using multiple bank accounts across three states to disperse and conceal income, using nominees and fraudulent taxpayer identification numbers to open and maintain bank accounts and using multiple business names to conduct business.


Shannon Johnson’s bail was revoked in September 2013 after the court found that there was probable cause to believe that he attempted to commit another fraud while on pre-trial release for the pending charges in this case. 


Yvette Johnson, 52, of Corona, California, previously pleaded guilty to her participation in the fraud scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 29.


This case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation and the FBI, and was prosecuted by Assistant Chief John N. Kane of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan for the District of Maryland.

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 15, 2014