Earlier this month, the IRS Criminal Investigation Team (IRS-CI) began counting down its Top 10 cases for 2021 on Twitter. The IRS-CI is responsible for investigating financial crimes such as tax fraud, health care fraud, identity theft, money laundering, trafficking, and public corruption. The organization’s Top 10 include their most prominent and high-profile investigations for the year. Jim Lee, IRS-CI Chief, said their 2021 cases had “all the making of a made-for-TV movie: embezzlement… a family fraud ring… and a Ponzi scheme.”
Here’s a look at their Top 10:
- Albuquerque, NM couple Susan and William Harris were sentenced to 47 and 15 years in federal prison for stealing funds from Ayundando Guardians Inc. The non-profit organization provided conservatorship, guardianship, and financial management to people with special needs. According to court records, Susan and William Harris siphoned money from client accounts, wrote checks to themselves and other family members, made false representations, and laundered money. They used the stolen money to fund their extravagant lifestyle, including purchasing homes, vehicles, RVs, and luxury cruises.
- Rochester, NY resident John Piccarreto Jr. was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison, plus restitution of $19M for his role in an investment fraud Ponzi scheme. Piccarreto was also convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and filing a false tax return. According to the Assistant US Attorney who prosecuted the case, Piccarretto defrauded approximately 400 investors out of more than $18M, which resulted in financial hardship to more than 25 of his victims.
- An Orlando, FL judge sentenced Petra Gomez to eight years in federal prison and nearly $25.5 in restitution for conspiracy to defraud the government and tax evasion. Between January 2012 and June 2016, Gomez and her sister Jakeline Lumucso submitted more than 16,000 false tax returns, which resulted in close to $25M in fraudulent tax refunds. The sisters operated a tax preparation business with five locations in central Florida.
- Russian bank founder Oleg Tinkov was ordered to pay more than $248M in taxes and sentenced to time-served plus one year of supervised release for evading exit taxes. Tinkov, who was born in Russia and became a naturalized US citizen, renounced his US citizenship in an effort to conceal large stock gains after his company became publicly traded.
- Ontario, CA resident Hugo Mejia was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for money laundering and operating an unlicensed business. He was also required to forfeit $13M in assets derived from his unlawful business. From May 2018 to September 2020, Mejia operated a virtual currency business that exchanged Bitcoin for cash, and vice versa. Mejia charged commissions for the transactions, with many of his clients being drug traffickers.
- Bulgarian national Rossen Iossifov was sentenced to 121 months in federal prison for his role in a transnational, multi-million-dollar scheme. Iossifov would falsely advertise high-value goods on auction sites such as Craigslist and eBay – the goods did not actually exist. When the victims would pay for the items, Iossifov’s US-based associates would convert the money into cryptocurrency and then transfer the cryptocurrency to foreign-based money launderers.
- Kent Whitney, former pastor of the California Church of the Healthy Self, was sentenced to 168 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $22.6M in restitution for victims. Whitney defrauded investors of $33M in a church-based investment scam. At Whitney’s direction, church representatives appeared on TV and at live seminars to solicit investments in CHS Trust, the church’s investment arm. Victims received fake monthly statements and were told that their funds had been invested in the church. Whitney was also charged with mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return.
- Prairie Village, KS resident Joel Tucker was sentenced to 12.5 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $8M in restitution for his involvement in two separate fraud schemes. Tucker sold false information or fake debts to payday loan businesses, and also failed to file federal tax returns for himself or his businesses. According to the IRS, Tucker used the millions of dollars from his frauds to spend lavishly on jet travel and luxury cars. He then tried to hide those funds by failing to file IRS income taxes. Tucker also fraudulently obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the government.
- Jeff Carpoff, owner of a Benicia, CA manufacturing company, was sentenced to 30 years in federal court and ordered to forfeit $120M in assets to the US government for victim restitution. Carpoff’s company, DC Solar, claimed to manufacture mobile solar generator units for trailers; he promoted the product as being able to provide emergency power to cellphone towers and sporting venues. Carpoff and his associates created a Ponzi scheme that involved the sale of tens of thousands of generator units, most of which didn’t exist. He used investors’ money to purchase real estate, luxury vehicles, a NASCAR team, and a sports team. This Ponzi scheme is the biggest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California.
- A San Fernando Valley, CA family has been sentenced to years in federal prison for their role in a COVID relief scam. Richard Ayvazyan, his wife Terabelian, and his brother Artur Ayvazyan, received sentences ranging from 10 months of probation to 17.5 years in prison. The family used stolen/fake identities, plus phony payroll and tax documents, to submit 150 applications for COVID-19 relief funds. The family used the $20M in relief funds to purchase luxury homes, jewelry, designer handbags, and gold coins. Richard and Terabelian, who cut off their ankle monitors and fled prior to sentencing, are currently fugitives.
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