Former Lansing Community College Professor And Wife Plead Guilty To Federal Tax Fraud
Couple and their business illegally received over $3,600,000 in federal tax refunds in a single year.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Tapera Albert Chiwocha, Sr., Callista Suzena Chiwocha, and Human Services Associates, LLC pled guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to conspiring to defraud the government by filing false tax returns, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge. Tapera and Callista Chiwocha each face up to ten years in prison. As part of their plea agreements, the Chiwochas and Human Services Associates will forfeit over $1.4 million dollars in federal tax refund money, which was seized pursuant to federal seizure warrants in 2011 and is the subject of two pending federal civil forfeiture actions.
During 2011, Tapera Albert Chiwocha, Sr., age 75, a former Lansing Community College professor, and his wife, Callista Suzena Chiwocha, age 63, requested over $4.5 million in federal tax refunds from the United States Treasury by causing false tax returns to be filed on behalf of others with the Internal Revenue Service. Citizens were tricked into providing their personal identification information after being promised "free stimulus money" by the Chiwochas and those who worked for them. The tax returns typically contained false reporting of undocumented income and abusive use of the earned income credit. The Chiwocha tax scam primarily exploited the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of the district. The Chiwochas created the Michigan-based limited liability company Human Services Associates, LLC to facilitate and conceal their criminal activities.
Acting U.S. Attorney Birge advised that "Our tax system relies on honest compliance. The Chiwochas and Human Services Associates took advantage of that system of honest compliance and committed a costly crime against the tax paying public." Birge encouraged tax filers to exercise caution when providing their personal information to others, especially to tax preparers who promise guaranteed tax refunds and make other questionable promises.
Complaints by local citizens prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation to open an investigation, which included executing multiple search warrants to seize evidence of the tax fraud scheme. During the multi-year investigation, over one hundred subpoenas were issued to track down the tax refunds, which had been paid into multiple bank accounts owned by Human Services Associates and controlled by the Chiwochas.
Tapera A. Chiwocha, Sr., obtained his doctoral degree in philosophy from Michigan State University in 1977. Callista Suzena Chiwocha obtained an undergraduate business degree in accounting from the University of Michigan in 1978 and received training in preparing federal tax returns from a national tax preparation company in 2009. Investigative records show that shortly before starting the tax fraud scheme, the Chiwochas were delinquent on their home mortgage payments. In earlier prosecutions, other Chiwocha-related family members pled guilty to similar tax offenses: daughter Taka Chiwocha-Crowell pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to forty-two months’ incarceration; daughter Tsiidzoyedu Callista Chiwocha pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to one year and one day of incarceration; grandson Qasim Ibn-Ishaq Verser pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to thirty-six months’ incarceration; grandson Imran Dawood Ibn-Abdurrahim pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to fifty-four months’ incarceration; and, granddaughter Ruqayya Aida Abdul-Hakim pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to seventy-two months’ incarceration. Sentencing of Tapera and Callista Chiwocha will take place on July 31, 2017.
"Defendants Tapera and Callista Chiwocha, who operated this large tax fraud scheme, were motivated by greed, resulting in the theft of millions of taxpayer dollars," said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI. "Today’s plea agreement is the result of our strong investigative partnerships which leveraged resources and expertise to dismantle this complex tax fraud criminal enterprise."
Special Agent in Charge Manny Muriel, IRS-Criminal Investigation stated, "The Chiwochas have demonstrated a blatant disregard of the integrity of the United States tax system. They stole from the system that is designed to provide vital government services including services to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens; the same group the Chiwochas exploited. Individuals who commit refund fraud of this magnitude deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
The prosecution of this case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel S. Fauson and Michael A. MacDonald.