Tax Fraud Blotter: Family affair

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Four-time loser; the thieving IRS; addresses and debit cards; and other highlights of recent tax cases.

Ludlow, Mass.: Joanne Murray, 54, and James Murray, 53, have pleaded guilty to mail fraud, ID theft and tax evasion.

From approximately 2010 through 2015, the couple, along with others, defrauded the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., commonly known as Freddie Mac. Joanne Murray worked at a Springfield real estate brokerage that managed hundreds of foreclosed properties owned by Freddie Mac. In the scheme, the Murrays and others agreed to submit fraudulent “reimbursements” by the brokerage to Freddie Mac for James’ company, amounting to some $1,372,099 in repair, improvement and maintenance projects.

After Freddie Mac paid the purported reimbursements, the brokerage paid James approximately 90 percent of those amounts and retained an approximate 10 percent skim. Joanne ensured that James’ company would win these projects by submitting fraudulent bids to Freddie Mac by purported competitors.

To avoid detection by Freddie Mac, Joanne submitted bids in a friend’s name, without his knowledge, instead of James’ company, for work that was ultimately performed by James’ company. The Murrays also agreed to submit similar fraudulent requests for reimbursement of minor cleaning projects for James’ relative, amounting to approximately $68,960, in exchange for the brokerage’s retention of approximately 10 percent of the relative’s payments.

In addition, from 2012 through 2014, the Murrays evaded payment on outstanding federal tax debts based on their 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 tax years, cashing numerous checks from the brokerage — totaling some $461,030 — rather than depositing those checks into their bank accounts.

In 2014, the Murrays jointly filed an individual federal income tax return that under-reported their gross receipts by approximately $151,178.

The conspiracy charge provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, up to five years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The aggravated ID theft charges provide for a mandatory two-year sentence consecutive to any other term of imprisonment. The tax evasion charge provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, a maximum of five years of supervised release and a fine of $100,000.

Waupun, Wis.: Preparer Kimberly Bagneski, 48, has entered a guilty plea for knowingly taking part in a scheme to defraud the U.S. by submitting false claims for income tax refunds to the IRS.

According to a written plea agreement, from approximately January 2011 through February 2016 Bagneski, assisted by a family member she had recruited, prepared and filed false returns for third parties. In total, Bagneski assisted in the preparation and filing of at least 20 false federal income tax returns that sought more than $90,000 in fraudulent refunds, as well as at least 19 false state income tax returns. All of the returns included a false Schedule C and many claimed inflated or completely fabricated deductions and tax credits. Bagneski instructed the IRS to send the refunds to a bank account she controlled or to split the refund between her account and an account controlled by a family member.

She faces up to five years in prison and fines of $250,000. Sentencing is June 13.

Slatington, Pa.: Preparer Nick Chacanias, 57, has pleaded guilty to theft and forgery in exchange for a sentence of 15 to 30 months in prison plus three years of probation, according to published reports.

Chacanias, who owned and operated C&M Accounting and Tax Solutions and NJC Tax and Accounting Solutions out of his former home, stole some $162,000 from 14 clients, news outlets added, saying that he promised to file the clients’ state and federal returns but instead pocketed the money.

He reportedly pleaded guilty to theft and forgery in York County Court. He will be eligible to have his minimum sentence reduced to 11 months and seven days if he completes recommended programs and maintains a clean record while incarcerated, reports added.

Chacanias has faced criminal charges related to his tax business on three prior occasions, news outlets said: In 2011, he pleaded guilty to access device fraud after he charged $2,400 on a client’s credit card for personal expenses without permission; he pleaded guilty in 2012 to six charges for failing to timely file personal income and corporate income tax returns; and in 2013 he pleaded guilty to two counts of theft for pocketing some $20,000 from two clients.

Irving, Texas: Tax preparer Francisco Ventura has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the U.S, and to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false return.

According to court documents and information, Ventura owned and operated several prep businesses in Irving from at least 2012 through at least 2015. During 2014, he ran a prep business named AJJ Tax and More, along with a second prep business named Uptown Multi Services, which he co-owned with co-defendant Mario Melendez.

From November 2013 and continuing through May 2014, Ventura conspired with Melendez and others to prepare fraudulent federal income tax returns and he personally prepared individual income tax returns for clients that included false education credits and Schedule C expenses. Ventura also taught training classes for new preparers during which he instructed employees how to prepare fraudulent returns to maximize refunds. Ventura is responsible for attempting to cause more than $8.3 million of tax loss to the U.S.

Sentencing is June 14, when Ventura faces a maximum of five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and three years in prison for aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false return, as well as a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties. Melendez pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to defraud the U.S. and to aiding and assisting in the preparation of false returns; he awaits sentencing.

Denver: Business owner Douglas Wieland has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison for failure to pay income taxes.

According to court documents, Wieland, who pleaded guilty in September, owned and operated Performance Paving, which performed asphalt and concrete work. He admitted that from April 1999 through December 2017 he did not pay income taxes and that he took steps to conceal his income and assets to prevent the IRS from seizing his assets.

Wieland deposited more than $1.8 million into a “warehouse bank” account and then used that account to pay for his personal expenses. Wieland also cashed checks his customers gave him for his services and admitted that he “cashed a check somewhere outside the box so the IRS doesn’t steal it from my bank.”

Wieland was also ordered to pay $166,658 in restitution.

Hemet, Calif.: Resident Charlene Castrejon, 60, who was charged in a tax fraud and ID-theft scheme that claimed nearly $2 million in fraudulent refunds, has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Castrejon pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated ID theft. She was further ordered to pay $563,587 in restitution.

Three other defendants were charged in the scheme.

According to court documents, beginning on an unknown date and continuing through about April 2015, Castrejon and her co-defendants schemed to defraud the IRS to obtain money from the Department of the Treasury. They filed fraudulent income tax returns claiming nearly $2 million in refunds and ultimately got away with more than $550,000.

As part of their scheme, Castrejon and her co-defendants obtained the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of individuals without the individuals’ knowledge or consent. The conspirators prepared false and fraudulent federal income tax returns in the names of the ID-theft victims with false income information, false dependent information, false Earned Income Tax Credit information and false education credit and Child Tax Credit information; the phony returns included claims for refunds.

The co-defendants then filed the fraudulent federal returns through Internet prep software without the knowledge or consent of the victims who were named as taxpayers in the fraudulent tax returns. The IRS either mailed the claimed refunds to the purported taxpayer addresses that were controlled by Castrejon and the co-defendants or deposited the refunds directly into the purported taxpayer debit card accounts that Castrejon and the co-defendants controlled.

Castrejon and her co-defendants deposited the refund checks into accounts they controlled or cashed the refund checks at banks or check-cashing businesses then also withdrew cash directly from the debit card accounts.

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Tax-related court cases Tax scams Tax fraud Tax crimes Tax preparation Freddie Mac