With tax filing deadline on the way, beware of scams
ATLANTA - The deadline for individuals to file their tax returns is quickly approaching. Most will file their taxes and await their refund with no issues or concerns. However, some may encounter an unexpected impediment – an unscrupulous return preparer who took advantage of them, or their identity was stolen and a tax refund has already been claimed in their name by a thief.
“Unfortunately, criminals use tax season to prey on unsuspecting taxpayers,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Remember to be diligent in your tax preparation and beware of offers that sound too good to be true.”
“With the April 17th tax deadline forthcoming, it is important for people to have confidence that when they pay and file their taxes, their fellow Americans are doing the same,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “During these times, every citizen and taxpayer must stay vigilant and aware of the various tax schemes being perpetrated in order to safeguard their identities from being compromised.”
The U.S Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, along with IRS-Criminal Investigations and other law enforcement partners, is actively engaged in combating tax preparing cheats and identity thieves. The following cases highlight some of the work done by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners over the past year relating to tax fraud.
Anthony Adewale Oloko and Temilola M. Brown
Anthony Adewale Oloko used stolen taxpayer personally identifiable information (PII) to file fraudulent tax returns with the IRS and then directed the tax refunds into fraudulently opened bank accounts. Between February 2014 and February 2017, Oloko filed 139 fraudulent returns totaling $886,895 in refunds. Of these 139 filed returns, nine refunds were actually issued by the IRS, totaling $27,129. The remainder of the fraudulent returns were successfully flagged by IRS systems.
Temilola M. Brown, who worked with Oloko opened a fraudulent bank account using a false name and identification. The investigation revealed that five fraudulent refunds totaling $37,320 were attempted to be directed into that account, but only one refund in the amount of $9,472 was actually deposited into the account. In addition, surveillance footage revealed Brown withdrawing money from ATMs in Mableton and Cumberland, Georgia.
Anthony Adewale Oloko was sentenced on February 12, 2018, to four years and three months in prison. Temilola M. Brown was sentenced on February 13, 2018, to one year and one day in prison, in connection with a scheme to use stolen taxpayer PII to file fraudulent tax returns with the IRS and then direct the tax refunds into fraudulently opened bank accounts. Both Oloko and Brown had previously pleaded guilty to theft of public money charges, and Oloko also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft.
This case was investigated by Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Herskowitz prosecuted the case.
Leshanda Hunte and Raphael Menard
On February 16, 2018, Leshanda Hunte was convicted by a jury of one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government money and five counts of theft of government money. Hunte's husband, Raphael Menard, was also charged in the case. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft of government money in January 2018.
Hunte and Menard operated a tax refund scheme that involved filing false federal tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of real people, but with false financial information that created the impression that the filer was owed a sizeable refund. The tax victims were elderly, disabled, and in some cases had died before the returns were filed. The IRS then issued tax refunds, every penny of which made its way to four bank accounts opened by Hunte and Menard in Dunwoody, Georgia. Using this scheme, Hunte and Menard stole more than $100,000 in tax refunds in just two months in the fall of 2012, although the evidence at trial established that the tax refund scheme had been operating at least as early as November 2011. The bank account activity showed that Hunte and Menard used the stolen tax refund money to finance their own lifestyle, including expenditures for rent, travel and expensive restaurants.
The tax refund scheme unraveled after astute employees at the bank noticed the suspicious refund activity and froze the Hunte-Menard accounts. When three bankers told Hunte why they froze the accounts, Hunte responded that she was a tax preparer and that the refund checks belonged to her “clients.” The bankers told Hunte that she would have to bring each client into the bank to sign a release before the bank could pay out the money. A few days later Hunte brought a man into the bank whom she presented as a client; in reality, the man was her cousin and roommate. After being deceived, the bank gave Hunte $8,573 in cash. Two days later, Menard went to the bank and tried the same trick. This time, however, a banker noticed that the third party presented a fake ID and she called the Dunwoody Police Department, who arrested Menard and the other man.
Hunte, 34, and Menard, 32, of Marietta, Georgia, will be sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge William S. Duffey, Jr., on May 8, 2018. Hunte and Menard each face a maximum of five years’ imprisonment for their conspiracy convictions. Hunte also faces an additional sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment for each of the five substantive theft convictions.
This case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, with valuable assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Trevor Wilmot and Samir Kaushal are prosecuting the case.
Calvin C. Barnes, Sharon Ceacal, Kenneth Cottrell, Zechariah Daniel, Derrick Lawson, Reynolds Scott III, Anthony Shivers and Calvin C. Williams
Eight members of a large Atlanta-based tax fraud and money laundering conspiracy have been sentenced for their roles in stealing funds from the U.S. Treasury.
In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, members of the conspiracy filed and caused to be filed over 100 fraudulent corporate tax returns, claiming $35 million in refunds for fuel taxes falsely claimed to have been paid on fuel purchased for off-road company vehicles. The IRS actually paid the co-conspirators over $5.6 million from those falsely claimed tax refunds, before those losses were stopped at the time of the first arrest in this investigation in May 2012. The false claims were made in the names of hijacked corporations and shell companies, none of which used off-road vehicles or paid the fuel tax claimed for refund.
Kenneth Cottrell, who has worked as a tax preparer, was personally involved in the preparation of some of the fraudulent returns. Calvin L. Barnes, Sharon Ceacal, Zechariah Daniel, Derrick Lawson, Reynolds Scott III and Calvin C. Williams were primarily involved with negotiating the fraudulently obtained refund checks and distributing the proceeds to coconspirators. Anthony Shivers assisted his brother Charlie Shivers III with whatever needed to be done in the conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash imposed sentences on the eight defendants, who had all pleaded guilty, as follows:
•Calvin L. Barnes, a/k/a “Big Cal”, 36, of Forest Park, Georgia, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
•Sharon Ceacal, 51, of Warner Robins, Georgia, was sentenced on August 2, 2017 to a year and a day in prison.
•Kenneth Cottrell, 33, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on July 31, 2017 to six months in prison.
•Zechariah Daniel, a/k/a “Zech”, a/k/a “Leroy Harris”, 36, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on August 2, 2017 to two years, four months in prison.
•Derrick Lawson, 43, of Lithonia, Georgia, was sentenced on August 3, 2017 to one year, six months in prison.
•Reynolds Scott III, 49, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on August 2, 2017 to four months in prison.
•Anthony Shivers, 47, of Lovejoy, Georgia, was sentenced on May 1, 2017 to three years, five months in prison.
•Calvin C. Williams, a/k/a “Lil’ Cal”, 48, of Smyrna, Georgia, was sentenced on August 2, 2017 to 10 months in prison.
This case was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation, the U.S. States Secret Service, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alana R. Black prosecuted the case.
Jahmir Antoine Robinson
From April 2011 through April 2012, Jahmir Robinson ran a scheme to defraud the United States by filing false federal income tax returns using stolen identities. Robinson obtained personal identity information, including names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth, of true individuals to file federal tax returns without their authorizations. To circumvent IRS checks and balances, Robinson obtained Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) from the IRS for 17 individual corporations and filed fictitious Forms 944 so that the IRS database would automatically match employer income tax withholdings against the individual returns.
In total, Robinson used the stolen identities and EINs to file 153 fraudulent individual tax returns with the IRS for tax years 2010 and 2011. Robinson caused the IRS to disburse refunds to an account he controlled. As a result of the scheme, Robinson caused a tax loss totaling $409,114.27.
Jahmir Antoine Robinson, 35, of Lithonia, Georgia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May to four years, six months in prison in federal prison, four years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $240,033.33 in restitution. He was convicted on these charges on November 8, 2017, after he pleaded guilty. Robinson was sentenced for running a stolen identity refund fraud (SIRF) scheme after he stole the identities of 153 people, and caused a tax loss of approximately $409,000.
This case was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bernita B. Malloy prosecuted the case.
Kim Earlycutt, Shannon King, and Marcia Farmer
Three defendants, Kim A. Earlycutt, Shannon A. King, and Marcia Farmer, obtained identity documents of foreign nationals and forged foreign identity documents in connection with their work at T&K Tax Services and More, which Earlycutt partially owned. Using these identity documents, the defendants submitted IRS W-7 forms to get individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs). The defendants then created false and fraudulent tax claim forms, specifically Forms 1040, or individual income tax returns, using these ITINs. Included with these Forms 1040 were falsified W-2 forms, which had fraudulent employer information, income, withholding amounts, and deduction amounts.
The defendants filed the fraudulent tax returns with the IRS, by mailing them and by using T&K’s electronic filing number. The tax returns all contained requests for refunds which were not actually due. The defendants enriched themselves by retaining a portion of the tax refunds that had been fraudulently obtained, including in some instances the entire refund. In all, they sought refunds in excess of $7 million and actually received over $5 million in fraudulent refunds. They used these fraudulent funds to pay personal expenses, including paying their personal automobile insurance. One defendant, Kim Earlycutt, used the fraudulent funds for gambling.
Kim A. Earlycutt, 54, of Covington, Georgia, was sentenced on August 25, 2017, to nine years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,222,634.
Shannon A. King, 37, of Lithonia, Georgia, was sentenced on August 24, 2017, to four years, six months in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,596,169.
Marcia Farmer, 51, of Snellville, Georgia, was sentenced on August 29, 2017, to one year, six months in prison to be followed by nine months of home confinement and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,370,811.
All three were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May.
This case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Secret Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Huber prosecuted the case.
Tax preparer, Shamil Dean was sentenced to two years in prison for her role in stealing fraudulently obtained tax refunds payable to another person. Dean maintained two bank accounts into which she deposited $147,318.64 through electronic deposits and paper U.S. Treasury checks. These funds were fraudulently obtained tax refunds, from returns filed in the names of identity theft victims. Dean transferred or withdrew the proceeds from the fraudulent refunds shortly after depositing them.
On May 3, 2017, U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May sentenced Dean to two years in prison. Dean was also ordered to pay $110,773.55 in restitution. Dean had pleaded guilty to a single count of aggravated identity theft on February 22, 2017.
The case was investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alana R. Black and David M. Zisserson and Charles M. Edgar of the Department of Justice, Tax Division prosecuted the case.
Gianna C. Liady
Gianna C. Liady co-owned K-1 Financial, a tax return preparation firm operating in Atlanta, Georgia. In November 2017, Liady pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging her with assisting in the preparation and filing of a false federal income tax return. Liady prepared and filed false tax returns on behalf of K-1 Financial’s customers causing a tax loss to the United States of approximately $197,506.
U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor L. Ross sentenced Liady to serve one year, three months in prison and to pay restitution in the amount of $197,506.
This case was investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bernita B. Malloy and Trial Attorney Sean Beaty of the Justice Department’s Tax Division prosecuted the case.
Go to https://www.irs.gov/ and click on 2018 Dirty Dozen for more on tax schemes.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.