A resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, was sentenced to prison today for his role in a conspiracy to file false claims and for aggravated identity theft, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker of the Eastern District of North Carolina announced.
Christian Rhodes, 39, was sentenced to serve 144 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,036,918 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Rhodes pleaded guilty on May 11 to one count of conspiracy to file false claims and one count of aggravated identity theft.
“Today’s sentence reflects the heavy price that will be paid by those individuals who steal identities and file fraudulent claims for refunds to line their own pockets,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo. “The department remains committed to working with the IRS and other federal and state law enforcement agencies to identify, prosecute and seek lengthy incarceration of these offenders.”
On Aug. 4, 2015, Senior U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox of the Eastern District of North Carolina sentenced Rhodes’ brother and co-conspirator, Rodney Wright, 33, to serve 15 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $86,447 in restitution. Wright pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to file false claims.
According to court documents, Rhodes, Wright and others conspired to prepare and file false income tax returns with the IRS. Wright obtained personal identification information of taxpayers and provided this information to Rhodes so that Rhodes, and to a more limited degree Wright, could prepare and file false tax returns that fraudulently claimed refunds. Rhodes also obtained the personal information of taxpayers from other sources, which he used to prepare and file false tax returns. The false information on the returns included deductions, credits, employers, wages and withholdings. Rhodes and Wright charged taxpayers a fee for preparing false returns.
Rhodes also recruited his sister, Virginia Parks-Bert, and Kellian James to join his scheme. Parks-Bert and James pleaded guilty to conspiracy to file false claims with the IRS in the Eastern District of Virginia and were sentenced to serve 42 months and 15 months in prison, respectively. Rhodes taught Parks-Bert to file false tax returns and explained how to make it more difficult for the IRS to trace false returns back to her. Rhodes introduced James and Parks-Bert to each other so that James could recruit clients and Parks-Bert could prepare and file more tax returns. The total intended tax loss of the fraudulent claims filed in this conspiracy was more than $3 million.
Rhodes also filed false claims for refund using stolen identities. He used the identification of clients from previous tax years to file false tax returns in their names and then kept the entire fraudulently obtained refund. Rhodes deposited the fraudulently obtained refunds into his own bank accounts or the accounts of third parties, including family members and girlfriends. He then withdrew cash from his accounts or directed the accountholders to withdraw the funds and deliver them to him.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo commended special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, who investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Menzer of the Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorneys Lauren M. Castaldi and Rebecca Perlmutter of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case.