Boston Cab Dispatcher and Wife Sentenced for Marriage Fraud Scheme
BOSTON – A Boston Cab dispatcher and his wife were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Boston in connection with arranging a sham marriage for an Ethiopian relative so he could obtain legal status in the United States.
Girma Tilahun, 61, a dispatcher for EJT Management, Inc., which operates Boston Cab, and his wife, Wudnesh Wolde, 54, both of Cambridge, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper to two years of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. They were also ordered to pay $234,987 in unpaid federal income taxes, interest and penalties, and $62,340 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Section 8 housing subsidies that they received but were not entitled to. In August 2016, both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting marriage fraud.
Tilahun and Wolde are Ethiopian nationals who have been married since 1985 and are permanent resident aliens who have lived in the United States since 1999. In 2011, Tilahun recruited a former neighbor, who was a U.S. citizen, to enter into a sham marriage with a relative in Ethiopia and then to apply for the relative to obtain permanent resident status in the United States. The relative was an Ethiopian national who was born in 1977 and, as of 2011, had never lived in the United States and was not lawfully entitled to become a permanent resident alien of the United States. Tilahun informed Wolde of the arrangement and the plan to pay $25,000 to the U.S. citizen. Wolde agreed and assisted Tilahun in convincing the citizen to participate in the sham marriage arrangement.
The “marriage” of the U.S. citizen and Tilahun’s relative took place in Ethiopia in April 2011 and, on the basis of that sham marriage and a series of fraudulent submissions to the United States government, the relative was admitted to the United States in April 2012 and received permanent resident status. But, as Tilahun and Wolde knew, the relative and the citizen never intended to actually live as a married couple and never did live together. When the relative arrived in the United States in April 2012, he went to live with Tilahun and Wolde, not with his purported “wife.”
In addition, for approximately 15 years, Tilahun worked for EJT Management, Inc., which operated under the name Boston Cab and is the largest owner and operator of medallion taxi cabs in Boston. Tilahun was among those responsible for assigning cabs to drivers. Tilahun accepted “tips” from drivers who wished to promptly get a taxi for lease, amounting to several hundreds of thousands of dollars in income which Tilahun did not report on his tax returns. Tilahun received most of his wages from EJT off-the-books in cash, which he also did not report to the IRS. The tax loss totaled $234,987. In addition, Tilahun and Wolde lived in federally-subsidized housing in Cambridge and lied about their income in order to receive tens of thousands of dollars in HUD Section 8 housing subsidies to which they were not entitled. Among other things, Tilahun and Wolde certified that Tilahun’s income from EJT was the amount Tilahun was paid on-the-books but did not report the off-the-books wages. The subsidies for the period 2009 to 2013 amounted to $62,340. According to the terms of the plea agreement, Tilahun and Wolde are required to pay the IRS back taxes, interest and penalties, and to reimburse HUD for housing subsidies they had fraudulently received.
On Dec. 13, 2016, Edward Tutunjian, the owner and operator of Boston Cab, through his company EJT Management, Inc., was sentenced to 20 months of probation –18 months of which must be spent in a halfway house. Tutunjian and EJT also paid more than $2.3 million in restitution and Tutunjian was fined at least $28,999 up to a quarter of his income. Tutunjian pleaded guilty to several counts of tax evasion, employing illegal aliens and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. EJT Management, Inc. pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the theft of public money in connection with the HUD subsidies.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Joel P. Garland, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Boston; Christina Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Office of Inspector General, Northeast Regional Office; Nikitas Splagounias, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Boston Field Division; Matthew Etre, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston; Boston Police Commissioner William Evans; and Cambridge Police Acting Commissioner Christopher Burke, made the announcement today. The Wage and Hour Division and the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the Department of Labor also assisted with the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra S. Bower of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Division prosecuted the case.