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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Georgia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 17, 2015

Savannah Pastor Sentenced To Nearly 10 Years For Role In Stolen Identity And Tax Fraud Scheme

SAVANNAH, GA:  XAVIER FRANKLIN LEWIS, the former Pastor of the Holy Ghost Praise and Deliverance Ministries outside of Savannah, Georgia was sentenced last week to 119 months’ imprisonment for his role as the check casher in a stolen identity tax fraud scheme.  Late last year, a jury found LEWIS guilty of 22 counts, including submitting false claims to the IRS, theft of public money, aggravated identity theft, operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business, and bank fraud.

According to the evidence presented during the trial and the sentencing hearing, LEWIS used a number of separate bank accounts he controlled, including three accounts opened in the name of his church, to negotiate over 90 government-funded tax refund checks.  LEWIS obtained the checks after they were either generated as the result of submitting a fraudulent income tax return with the IRS or were generated at the legitimate request of a taxpayer but stolen from the mail before it reached its final destination.  In total, LEWIS fraudulently negotiated nearly $250,000 worth of government-funded checks.

United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, “This defendant acted as a wolf in sheep’s clothing using his church to conduct an illegal check cashing operation as part of a stolen identity and tax fraud scheme.  Now, he’ll spend almost ten years in federal prison.  This case should serve as notice to those who would abuse the trust of the American people to enrich themselves – if you attempt to rip off the taxpayers of this great country, you should expect to spend time in prison.”

“We would like this verdict and sentence to serve as a strong message that there are consequences for stealing and using other individuals’ personal identifying information,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge, Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot. “Individuals who devise schemes to steal public money face federal prosecution and federal prison.”

IRS Special Agent Stephanie Huebner and United States Secret Service Agent Matthew Britsch conducted the investigation which led to the indictment. IRS Special Agents Jason Dulin and Andres Hernandez assisted with the trial.   Assistant United States Attorneys C. Troy Clark and Charles B. Wydysh prosecuted this case on behalf of the United States.  Any additional questions should be directed to First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.

Updated July 21, 2015