Tax Fraud Blotter: A scam by any other name

Speedy time; embezzling from the dead; thousands in gold coins; and other highlights of recent tax cases.

Warwick, R.I.: Preparer Raymond Petrarca has pleaded guilty to 44 counts of filing fraudulent returns for clients.

According to documents and information provided to the court, Petrarca owned and operated the tax prep business Stratus Financial Group. He admitted to falsifying 44 returns prepared for clients between tax years 2010 and 2015, seeking undeserved federal refunds. Petrarca admitted to falsifying the returns by including false and inflated deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable donations and false and inflated credits for purported home-energy improvements.

Sentencing is Dec. 5, when he faces a maximum of three years in prison on each count, as well as supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

Southampton, Pa.: Andrew Bunchuk, a.k.a. Andrew Bassaner, 45, has been sentenced to 42 months in prison, and Vicki Bunchuk, 45, has been sentenced to six months in prison, for tax fraud.

Andrew Bunchuk was convicted of six counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false income tax returns; Vicki Bunchuk was convicted of six counts of filing false income tax returns. Both were convicted of failing to collect, account for and pay over taxes for employees.

According to the evidence, Bassaner and Bunchuk were the owners and operators of Florist Concierge Corp., a company incorporated in Pennsylvania but located in Orlando, Fla. The company was a call center and Internet service that accepted floral arrangement orders from customers throughout the country.

The defendants fraudulently deducted more than $200,000 in personal expenses on their income taxes, claiming they were legitimate business expenses. The expenses included luxury cars, a down payment on a multi-million-dollar house, tickets to sporting events and home repairs.

Evidence also showed that the defendants failed to collect and pay over employment taxes, FICA taxes and federal unemployment taxes on behalf of employees who worked for Florist Concierge for 14 consecutive quarters from 2001 through 2014. The defendants mischaracterized employees as contractors in an attempt to avoid collecting and paying over employment taxes.

Cincinnati: Demolition executive Hugo Santamaria has been sentenced to two years in prison for tax and structuring crimes.

According to case documents and information, Santamaria pleaded guilty in August 2017 to structuring cash transactions to avoid currency transaction reports and conspiring to defraud the U.S. Beginning in 2006, Santamaria owned and operated multiple demolition companies and conspired with his business partner in those companies to conceal income from the IRS and evade personal income taxes.

He engaged in such acts of evasion as opening bank accounts for his co-conspirator to hide income and serving as a nominee for his co-conspirator’s businesses. Santamaria also wrote, signed and cashed numerous checks and made cash withdrawals in amounts less than $10,000 on consecutive days. He and his co-conspirator also paid workers in cash and failed to withhold and pay over any payroll taxes.

Santamaria admitted to paying himself a weekly salary from company bank accounts, and paying personal expenses including food, lodging, clothing, gym memberships and tuition for private school out of the business bank accounts. He has not filed a personal tax return since 2007.

Santamaria was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $26,213 in restitution to the IRS.

Amherst, N.Y.: Realtor Maxim Levin, 40, has pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.

From 2012 to 2015, Levin operated Glebova Realty Group, which purchased, renovated and sold real estate throughout the Buffalo, N.Y., area. During those years, Levin filed federal income tax returns but failed to accurately report the gross receipts that he earned from his real estate business to the IRS and failed to pay taxes on such income. He caused more than $3.1 million of gross receipts from his real estate business to be excluded from his returns, resulting in a tax loss of $161,606.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Hands-in-jail-Blotter
hand in jail

Waialua, Hawaii: Preparer Guillermo Dahilig has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for aiding and assisting in the preparation and filing of false returns.

According to court documents and case information, from 2009 to 2016 Dahilig owned and operated Speedy Gill Services, an Oahu tax prep business. He prepared 750 to 1,000 returns per year for clients and charged $100 to $200 per return. To inflate refunds, he falsified clients’ returns with deductions for items such as medical expenses, personal property tax, job expenses and charitable contributions that he knew were greater than the figures provided by his clients. From at least 2010 through 2013, he also underreported the income of Speedy Gill on the returns he prepared and filed for himself and his wife.

Following his incarceration, Dahilig will be on supervised release for a year. He has been ordered to pay $318,222 in restitution to the IRS.

New York: CPA and attorney Steven Etkind has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and tax evasion arising from a scheme to embezzle millions from a deceased client’s estate.

According to court documents and statements in court, Etkind was a partner at a New York law firm’s tax, trusts and estates group and performed legal work for a successful entrepreneur client; the client died in 2008, naming Etkind as the co-executor of his $35 million estate.

The client’s will directed the creation of two charitable trust private foundations, funded with assets from the client’s estate, for the sole purpose of donating to 501(c)(3) organizations, including those aimed at assisting Jewish-sponsored organizations. Etkind was named co-trustee of these trusts.

Beginning in 2009, Etkind and his co-conspirator set up a phony charitable organization, the United Jewish Education Foundation, and used it to steal more than $3.5 million from these charitable trusts. Etkind directed that donations from the trusts be first made to legitimate Jewish charitable organizations to give the disbursements the appearance of legitimate donations. Etkind and his co-conspirator then redirected the funds to accounts of the UJEF, the phony charity that his co-conspirator controlled.

Etkind subsequently directed his co-conspirator to write checks, totaling $327,500, to a bank account in the name of JE Capital Holding Corp., a nominee corporate entity that Etkind controlled exclusively. Etkind further directed more than $3 million to be used in 2010 to purchase a 6,300 square-foot home with a swimming pool in Southampton, N.Y. Etkind later transferred title of the property to JE Trust, a nominee trust he controlled.

To conceal his embezzlement, Etkind filed and caused to be filed fraudulent personal, corporate and charitable trust returns with the IRS. During a subsequent IRS audit of UJEF, Etkind and his co-conspirator made several false and misleading statements, including about the true ownership of the Southampton property.

Sentencing is Jan. 18. Etkind faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and five years for tax evasion. He also faces a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

Ft. Myers, Fla.: Resident Attila Kalmar has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing government funds and endeavoring to obstruct internal revenue laws.

According to court documents, Kalmar filed 2007 through 2009 trust returns with the IRS in the name of First AK-Open Sec Trust, a nominee entity, seeking more than $480,000 in fraudulent refunds. He deposited a refund check he received as a result of these filings into a bank account and then used the proceeds to purchase real property, acquire thousands of dollars in gold coins and wire money overseas.

He tried to impede the internal revenue laws by transferring funds between nominee bank accounts and falsely representing to the IRS that an IRS revenue officer was the trustee for First AK-Open Sec Trust.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, Kalmar was ordered to serve three years of supervised release, forfeit $274,019 and a piece of real estate to the U.S. and pay $274,019 in restitution to the IRS.

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