tax avoidance

Justice Department Ramps Up Tax Avoidance & Fraud Investigations

Taxpayers are being urged to pay careful attention to the upcoming reporting and filing obligations according to the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. Willfully filing false tax returns or deliberate tax avoidance are serious criminal offenses.

“Our criminal prosecutors are prepared for tax filing season too,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Tax Division. “Honest, law-abiding taxpayers should know that the Tax Division is aggressively using its resources and expertise to identify, investigate, and prosecute those attempting to defraud and obstruct the IRS.”

Per a recent press release, the Tax Division, in collaboration with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, other Justice Department litigating offices, and the IRS, has investigated and prosecuted a broad array of tax offenses over the last year, from businesses and white-collar professionals underreporting income to employment tax fraud to identity theft. Enforcement efforts are continually ongoing. Here are a few recent examples:

Prosecution of Business Owners

On Dec. 1, 2020, a New York City restaurateur was sentenced to 24 months in prison for tax evasion. Adel Kellel, the owner of Raffles Bistro, diverted business income for personal expenses, including rent for a high-end Manhattan apartment, college tuition payments for his children, and purchases from luxury retailers. As part of his sentence, Kellel was ordered to pay $613,478 to the IRS.

On Oct. 20, 2020, two biofuel company owners were sentenced to prison for conspiracy to defraud the IRS and preparing a false tax claim, among other offenses. Ben Wootton, 55 of Savannah, Georgia, was sentenced to 70 months and Race Miner, 51, of Marco Island, Florida, was sentenced to 66 months, after a jury convicted both defendants and their company, Keystone Biofuels Inc., in April 2019.

Prosecution of White-Collar Professionals & Individuals

On Dec. 21, 2020, two Atlanta-area tax professionals pleaded guilty to promoting a syndicated conservation easement tax scheme involving more than $1.2 billion in fraudulent charitable deductions. Stein Agee of Canton, Georgia, and Corey Agee of Atlanta, Georgia, are currently awaiting sentencing for their role in the scheme.

On Nov. 2, 2020, a New Jersey man was sentenced to 78 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the United States, filing false claims, and obstructing the internal revenue laws, following his conviction at trial.

According to evidence presented at trial, between 2015 and 2016, Kenneth Crawford Jr. and his co-conspirators promoted and sold a “mortgage recovery” tax fraud scheme in which they obtained fraudulent refunds from the IRS for their clients. As a result of Crawford’s scheme, more than $2.5 million in fraudulent refunds were sought from the IRS.

On Aug. 21, 2020, a North Carolina risk consultant pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and illegally possessing a firearm. From 2011 through 2017, Charles Atkins underreported income from several risk consulting businesses, causing a tax loss of more than $800,000 to the IRS. Atkins is currently awaiting sentencing.

Employment Tax Prosecutions

On April 7, 2021, the manager of the San Diego Home Cooking restaurant chain was sentenced to 30 months in prison for employment tax fraud. According to court records, from the last quarter of 2014 through 2017, Aleksandar Sreckovic did not file employment tax returns nor pay employment taxes for San Diego Home Cooking, causing a tax loss of over $1.5 million. Instead of paying employment taxes, Sreckovic paid other creditors and his own personal expenses.

On March 24, 2021, A Montana businessman pleaded guilty today to employment tax fraud. According to court documents, Thomas O’Connell owned and operated three plumbing businesses, Quality Plumbing and Heating, Orbit Plumbing and Heating, and Orbit PHC, each based in Great Falls. From at least 2005 through 2016, O’Connell did not pay employment taxes for several quarters, despite being obligated to ensure such taxes were paid to the IRS. Instead, he directed payments to other creditors and to his own personal expenses. The total tax loss to the IRS from O’Connell’s conduct is more than $550,000.

Identity Theft Prosecutions

On Oct. 7, 2020, a Las Vegas, Nevada man was sentenced to 70 months in prison for mail and wire fraud conspiracy, following his jury trial convictions. The trial evidence proved that from January 2009 through April 2011, Terry Williamson and his co-conspirators filed false tax returns with the IRS to fraudulently obtain tax refunds. To facilitate the fraud, they used the names and social security numbers of deceased taxpayers. More than 480 fraudulent tax refund checks totaling almost $2 million were deposited into Williamson’s account.

More information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts in these and other areas can be found on the division’s website.