Tax Fraud Blotter: Lavish lifestyles

Stat scam; shopping center switcheroo; what a pain; and other highlights of recent tax cases.

Houston: Jonathan Adam Van Pelt, former owner of a local staffing company, has admitted he willfully failed to account for and pay federal employment taxes.

Van Pelt withheld federal income taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes from the wages of employees for one employment tax quarter but didn’t timely file the required employer’s tax return for that quarter.

He admitted that the total employment taxes he failed to pay to the IRS for the company exceeded $20 million, the amount owed for the third quarter of 2011 through the fourth quarter of 2015. Van Pelt admitted he spent the money on items such as luxury automobiles, furniture, leather goods, jewelry, an expensive home, vacations and entertainment.

He has agreed to pay $20 million in restitution to the IRS.

Green Bay, Wis.: Former resident Alma Ramirez, 40, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, assisting in filing false returns seeking fraudulent refunds and aggravated ID theft.

Ramirez acknowledged that from March 2013 through May 2016, she and others working with her and at her direction prepared and e-filed more than 60 federal income tax returns that fraudulently sought refunds.

Ramirez also acknowledged that as part of her scheme she stole the ID of third parties and used those identities fraudulently by falsely claiming them as dependents on returns.

She faces at least two years in prison on the aggravated ID theft charge and up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud charge. She has also agreed to pay $301,000 in restitution to the IRS. Sentencing is Feb. 19.

Las Vegas: Preparer Ofelia Ronquillo was sentenced to 37 months in prison for aiding and assisting in the filing of false returns.

According to documents and information provided to the court, from 2009 through 2015 Ronquillo prepared false income tax returns for clients of her business, A.R. Financial and later AJRC Tax Services. Ronquillo included multiple false items on her clients’ returns, including charitable contributions, capital loss deductions, energy tax credits and unreimbursed employee expenses such as business meals and transportation expenses.

The returns reported that the clients owed thousands of dollars less in taxes than they would have owed without the false deductions and credits. Ronquillo admitted that the total tax loss resulting from her preparation and filing of false returns exceeded $2.7 million.

She was also ordered to serve a year of supervised release and to pay $16,290.93 in restitution.

Corvallis, Ore.: Pamela S. Hediger, 55, pleaded guilty to one count each of attempting to evade or defeat taxes and engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity.

According to court documents, between 2010 and 2017 Hediger was an attorney, president and managing shareholder of a local law firm, where she focused on personal injury cases and independently managed client relationships.

Hediger embezzled from the firm’s client trust and business operating accounts; during 2011, 2012 and 2014, she also devised a scheme to defraud two investors involved in nearby shopping center projects. Rather than invest the money, she used the investments to support her lavish lifestyle: pay her mortgage, fund construction and landscaping at her home, repay individuals who had lent her money to purchase her share of the law firm and to fund lavish vacations, a timeshare, plastic surgery, automobile expenses and a Hawaiian band for a party. Stolen funds were also used to pay credit card accounts she had opened in the names of relatives and an unsuspecting associate.

To conceal her schemes, Hediger falsified the law firm’s accounting records by mischaracterizing the identity of payees and the purpose of payments, submitted false documentation to support the expenditures and lied to firm employees when questioned about expenditures.

Hediger failed to file income tax returns on nearly $2.2 million between 2011 and 2017, evading more than $471,000 in taxes.

She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Sentencing is Jan. 10.

Philadelphia: Six local women, several of whom are sisters and cousins, have been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution for their role in a scheme to defraud the U.S. through the filing of false claims for refunds.

The six all pleaded guilty and admitted to engaging in a scheme to present false federal income tax returns to generate fraudulent federal income tax refunds. Dozens of false returns were filed with the IRS, often using stolen names and Social Security numbers.

Defendant Larayna Dunson, the mastermind, recruited family members, friends and acquaintances to participate. Initially, the defendants provided taxpayers’ information to Dunson, who in turn fabricated multiple federal income tax returns and shared the phony refunds. Dunson subsequently taught the co-defendants how to prepare false returns using the stolen ID information; they began filing fraudulent returns and obtaining false refunds themselves.

The total fraudulent income tax refunds obtained and deposited into accounts controlled by the defendants exceeded $600,000. The defendants used the stolen funds for living expenses, including rent and cars.

The defendants were also ordered to pay a total of $1,007,080 in restitution.

Milwaukee: Liberty Tax preparer Karen Tompkins, 58, has pleaded guilty to two felony counts related to conspiring to defraud the U.S. by preparing and filing federal returns that fraudulently claimed undeserved refunds.

Tompkins also admitted to willfully aiding in the preparation and filing of false income tax returns while employed as a preparer.

Co-conspirators Shalonda Burns, 41, and Latoya Bush, 38, both of Milwaukee, previously pleaded guilty to the same charges. A fourth defendant was indicted in February.

Tompkins managed a local branch of Liberty Tax Services. She admitted to conspiring to inflate filers’ refunds by including false information in the returns, including false business income for non-existent businesses and false W-2 income and Additional Child Tax Credits. Additionally, she admitted to receiving kickbacks from the inflated refunds and creating fake documentation to support the filers’ business income.

Tompkins faces up to eight years in prison and fines of up to $350,000. Sentencing is March 19.

Colorado Springs, Colo.: Chiropractor Thomas Forster Gehrmann Jr., 45, has been found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and of filing three false federal income tax returns.

According to indictment and evidence at trial, from January 2007 until September 2011 Gehrmann, an indicted co-defendant and an unindicted co-conspirator conspired to defraud the IRS. Gehrmann helped file false 1040s for calendar years 2008, 2009 and 2010 by failing to report the income they diverted from their business.

The defendant and others skimmed money from their chiropractic practice business, using the funds for personal use. In total Gehrmann skimmed just less than half a million dollars from the business.

Sentencing is March 19.

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