Former Canton resident sentenced to 13 years in prison for tax fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio
Two people were sentenced to prison for their roles operating a $4.8 million fraud conspiracy involving nearly 1,000 people who resided in Northeast Ohio, said U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon and Kathy Enstrom, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge.
Allen D. Miles, 58, of Little Rock, Arkansas, formerly of Canton, was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison. He previously was found guilty of multiple counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Zinara M. Highsmith, 37, of Fayetteville, Georgia, was sentenced to 42 months in prison. She previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud.
“These defendants’ preyed on faith – people’s faith in their ministers and faith in their government,” Rendon said. “These defendants betrayed that faith to get rich and now will be held accountable.”
“Today’s sentencings should send a clear message to would-be criminals -- you will be caught and you will be punished,” Enstrom said. “Identity theft is a contemptible modern-day scourge and we will continue to pursue criminals who prey on innocent victims.”
Highsmith filed approximately 2,750 false tax returns containing false refund claims of more than $4.8 million. Approximately 964 false claims were made on behalf of people living in Northeast Ohio, according to court documents.
Highsmith formed the Atlanta-based tax-preparation business WE XL LLC in 2010. From March 2011 through July 2011, Highsmith partnered with Miles in a scheme to file false tax returns. Miles’ role was to recruit and obtain personal identification information from claimants and to provide that information to Highsmith, who was responsible for the preparation of the false returns. Miles did this in large part by inducing other ministers and church leaders in various states, including Ohio, to solicit members of their congregations to apply for benefits under the so-called government stimulus program, according to court documents.
Some of the claimants were residents of Northeast Ohio who provided their personal identification information to a pastor in Canton and to a relative of the Canton pastor. They, in turn, forwarded the information to Miles, according to court documents.
As instructed by Miles, the claimants were told they could receive their “stimulus” payment by direct deposit or on a debit card. Miles told pastors to request a $50 “donation” from each claimant, according to court documents.
Miles forwarded the claimants’ personal identification information to Highsmith to use in preparing false tax returns. Highsmith never had any contact with a claimant or any of the other pastors used by Miles to recruit or enlist claimants, according to court documents.
Highsmith instructed associates, including Ve Sayavong, of Jonesboro, Georgia, how to prepare false income tax returns using Turbo Tax software, which they did by reporting false occupations and wage income, and by falsely claiming a variety of tax credits, including the AOC Education Credit, the Making Work Pay Credit and the Earned Income Credit, according to the court documents.
All of the returns requested that $125 be deposited into a bank account controlled by Miles and $275 be deposited into a bank account controlled by Highsmith, according to the information.
Based on the false claims, the IRS issued refunds totaling more than $3.9 million, with more than $500,000 from those refunds going to bank accounts controlled by Highsmith, according to court documents.
Sayavong was previously sentenced to nearly three years in prison.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael L. Collyer and Carmen Henderson following an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.
Updated August 15, 2016