Criminal Justice News

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tampa Used Car Dealer Arrested for Tax Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft

TAMPA—United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill announces the unsealing of a 32-count indictment charging Russell B. Simmons, Jr. (42, Tampa) with tax fraud and aggravated identity theft. Specifically, Simmons is charged with eight counts of wire fraud, eight counts of filing a false claim with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), seven counts of theft of government property, and nine counts of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Simmons faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud count, five years in prison for each false claim count, and 10 years in prison for each theft of government property count. He faces a mandatory sentence of two years in federal prison for each aggravated identity theft count, which must be served consecutive to any sentence imposed for any of the other underlying offenses. The indictment also notifies Simmons that the United States intends to forfeit numerous assets, including approximately $47,580 in cash, $118,275 found on Green Dot and Walmart money cards, a Bentley, and numerous pieces of jewelry, including a Rolex watch, which are alleged to be traceable to proceeds of the offense.

According to the indictment, Simmons, who owned and operated Simmons Auto Sales in Tampa, engaged in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Treasury Department by filing fraudulent income tax returns and negotiating fraudulent tax refunds. Simmons allegedly accepted, purchased, and negotiated U.S. Treasury checks that he knew had been fraudulently obtained, often from individuals purchasing vehicles from his used car lot. Simmons, who knew the refund checks were fraudulently obtained using stolen identities, accepted the U.S. Treasury checks with a much higher face value than the price of the vehicles he sold, keeping the difference for himself. At Simmons Auto, he also accepted, negotiated, and “swiped” reloadable debit cards, commonly referred to as “Green Dot cards,” knowing that they contained fraudulently obtained tax refunds. In some cases, Simmons swiped these cards for individuals who purchased no goods or services from him. Simmons kept a large percentage of the value of these cards for himself and provided the balance to his co-conspirators in cash.

In addition to negotiating fraudulent tax refunds, Simmons personally filed fraudulent federal income tax returns using stolen identities. He then directed that the fraudulently obtained refunds be loaded onto debit cards, which he used at ATMs around the Tampa area.

“Investigating refund fraud and identity theft is a priority for IRS Criminal Investigation,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Richard Weber. “Stealing identities and filing false tax returns is a serious crime that hurts innocent taxpayers. Today’s arrest, a cooperation with the U.S. Secret Service and Tampa Police Department, should serve as a strong warning to those who are considering similar conduct. Law enforcement is serious about investigating these crimes and holding to account those who defraud the government.”

“The arrest of Mr. Simmons is significant due to the sheer volume of tax fraud perpetrated by this individual. Mr. Simmons and others have shown a flagrant disregard for the law and have abused the electronic tax filing system,” said John W. Joyce, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service, Tampa Field Office. “The Secret Service and the members of our financial crimes task force will continue to focus our resources on investigations like this that negatively impact the community, the economy, and our nation’s critical financial infrastructure.”

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and the Tampa Police Department. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mandy Riedel.

This case is being prosecuted as part of Operation Rainmaker, a coordinated effort by various federal and local law enforcement agencies to combat the filing of false tax returns in the Tampa Bay region. Agencies participating in Operation Rainmaker include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, the U.S. Secret Service, IRS, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Tampa Police Department, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

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