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Press Release

Owner of Fake Georgia Charitable Organizations Charged with Tax Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts

BOSTON – The owner of several bogus charitable organizations in Georgia was charged and has agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns. 

Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Ga., was charged with two counts of filing false tax returns. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled by the court. 

According to court documents, Hightower ran two non-profit organizations that purported to serve underprivileged kids in the Atlanta, Ga. area. From approximately 2010 to 2015, Hightower received more than $650,000 in ostensible donations from a bank in Boston – where Palestine Ace, the wife of Hightower’s family member Jonathan Ace, worked. In reality, the monies Hightower was receiving as purported donations were the proceeds of a separate embezzlement scheme carried out by Palestine and Jonathan Ace. As a condition of receiving these “donations,” Hightower agreed to return approximately 25% to Palestine and Jonathan Ace as a secret kickback. 

Rather than use the funds for charitable purposes, Hightower spent the majority on personal expenses unrelated to any charity work. For tax years 2013 and 2014, Hightower filed false personal and organizational tax returns in connection with the purported donations. Each year, Hightower reported significant amounts of non-existent and/or inflated business expenses, which ultimately lowered her personal tax liability. 

In 2018, Palestine and Jonathan Ace were convicted of embezzlement and were sentenced to one years and two years in prison, respectively.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of up to three years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge are based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Ramsey E. Covington, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Boston made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordi de Llano, Deputy Chief of Lelling’s Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit, is prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated February 12, 2021