Woman in Prison for BP Oil Spill Fraud Now Charged with Food Stamp Fraud and Tax Evasion
BIRMINGHAM -- Federal prosecutors have charged a McCalla woman, already serving time for attempting to defraud the Gulf Coast oil spill claims fund, with food stamp fraud and evading income taxes, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Investigations, Special Agent in Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox.
The U.S. Attorney's Office last week charged SHERICA LACEY LEE, 33, with one count of tax evasion and one count of wire fraud through an information filed in U.S. District Court. The information also seeks to have Lee forfeit $23,757 to the government as proceeds of illegal activity. The government also filed a plea agreement with Lee in which she agrees to plead guilty to the charges and to pay restitution of $134,448 to the IRS for taxes not paid in 2008 through 2010, plus $23,757 to the Department of Agriculture for food stamp benefits she was not eligible to receive between July 2009 and June 2013. Lee also consents, additionally, to forfeit the $23,757 sought in the information.
"This defendant is in prison for trying to steal money intended for the victims of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now she must face the charges that she stole from U.S. taxpayers and from money intended to feed poor families," Vance said. "Fraud seemed to be this defendant's default mode, but government agencies and this office hit the kill switch."
"Sherica Lacey Lee attempted to evade her tax obligation by not reporting all of her income to the Internal Revenue Service,” Hyman-Pillot said. "Tax evasion undermines the integrity of our nation’s tax system, which is built on voluntary compliance. IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to enforce the nation’s tax laws and recommend prosecution on individuals who choose to violate our tax system.”
The information charges Lee evaded income taxes for 2008 by preparing and submitting a personal tax return that falsely reported she had no taxable income, when she had $229,147 in taxable income that year. Lee ran a tax preparation business, Lacey's Income Tax Service, with several locations in the Birmingham area. Between 2008 and 2010, according her plea agreement, Lee's company filed more than 2,000 tax returns and generated about $2.5 million in receipts.
The information also charges Lee with wire fraud as part of a scheme to obtain federal benefits from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. USDA administered SNAP, formerly known as the Federal Food Stamp Program, in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
Although Lee had income in excess of $200,000 in 2009, she applied for SNAP benefits by falsely stating on her application to DHR that she had no household income, cash on hand, or money in the bank, according to her plea agreement. Lee submitted additional false application forms in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Her applications caused the $23,757 in SNAP benefits to be wired to an account established in her name and loaded monthly onto an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which could be used as a debit card to purchase food.
Lee was sentenced in June 2014 to one year and a day in prison for attempting to defraud the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. As part of Lee's plea agreement in the current case, she and the government agree to a prison sentence of 24 months, unless the low end of the U.S. Sentencing Guideline range is more than 24 months. In that case, the government would recommend the low end of the guideline range. The government also would recommend that Lee's sentence run concurrently with the sentence she is now serving.
IRS, Criminal Investigation, and USDA-OIG investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Meadows is prosecuting.