Florida Prosecutors Take White Collar Crimes Seriously
White collar crimes are a serious matter. Federal prosecutors in Florida treat offenses like tax fraud, identity theft, and money laundering just as seriously as more conventional violent crimes. And if a white collar crime involves more than one person, whoever is charged as the “ringleader” may face enhanced penalties under federal sentencing guidelines.
Defendant Sentenced to 6 Years for Tax Fraud Scheme
Consider a recent criminal case from here in South Florida. The defendant owned and operated a chemical company. In 2002, he nominally transferred ownership of the company to one of his employees, although he retained control over the business.
The defendant and the employee then proceeded to operate an illegal check-cashing scheme. Initially, the employee would “deposit company checks into her personal account” and then withdraw cash to give to the defendant. Later, the defendant instructed the employee to write checks to a third party (who used an alias), which were then cashed at a local convenience store.
Altogether, federal prosecutors determined the defendant cashed 265 checks yielding over $2.5 million. This was all taxable income the defendant failed to report on his federal tax returns. (Fortunately for the defendant, Florida has no state income tax.) Furthermore, IRS records indicated the defendant filed a number of false tax returns claiming a negative net income. And on top of that, prosecutors said the defendant committed identity theft to obtain credit cards in the name of his son and ex-wife.
The defendant was tried and convicted in federal court for all of these white collar crimes. A judge sentenced the defendant to six years in federal prison. On January 21, 2016, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of his convictions and sentence.
Of note in the appeal, the 11th Circuit explained why the defendant’s six-year prison sentence was appropriate. Federal sentencing is based on a complex set of guidelines. Certain factors can aggravate or mitigate a defendant’s sentence. In this case, the trial judge imposed a “two-level role enhancement” because the defendant was an “organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in [a] criminal activity” that involved at least one other “participant,” i.e., the employee.
On appeal, the defendant argued his base offense—filing false tax returns—only involved himself. Neither the employee nor the third party who the checks were written to helped him file any of the returns. The 11th Circuit said that did not matter. It was enough, the court said, that they “knowingly assisted” the defendant’s overall “criminal tax scheme.” Indeed, both participants were integral to the scheme. Therefore the trial judge was well within his discretion to increase the defendant’s prison time as punishment for being the scheme’s leader.
Get Help from a Miami Federal Crimes Attorney
If you are facing any type of federal criminal charge, you need to be proactive in defending yourself. Do not assume the government will go easy just because you are charged with a non-violent or white collar offense. An experienced Miami federal criminal attorney can help ensure your interests are protected throughout the trial (and appeals) process. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos if you need to speak with an attorney right away.