TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Every year the Internal Revenue Service, or the tax agency for the U.S. government, puts out a list of their top 10 investigations. For the 2022 list, three cases hit close to home for WFLA, investigated by the Tampa Field Office.
According to the IRS, these cases included tax evasion and Ponzi schemes
“This year’s top 10 cases demonstrate that no one – not attorneys, not reality television stars, not law enforcement officers – are above the law,” IRS-CI Chief Jim Lee said in a statement. “The defendants in these cases brazenly tried to victimize others through fake investment schemes or steal money from government coffers, and thanks to our investigative work, there are consequences for the financial crimes they committed.”
Here’s a look at cases that “include several of Tampa’s own,” according to the federal tax agency.
Serial tax fraudster sentenced to more than 19 years in prison
Ranked at No. 7 for the IRS top 10, Michael Dexter Little was sentenced to 19 years and six months in federal prison for filing “a series of false tax returns claiming massive, bogus fuel tax credits” from 2019 to 2021.
According to the IRS case summary, Little and his co-conspirators took $12.3 million and attempted to take $27 million through the “fraudulent tax returns.” They also “conspired to launder their ill-gotten gains” and used parts of the money to buy real estate and other assets.
Information from the U.S. Department of Justice details more about Little and his co-conspirators’ plan. The USDOJ said Little “filed the false returns in his own name and in the names of co-conspirators and identity theft victims.” He had also previously been convicted of tax fraud in 1999 and 2003.
After pleading guilty in October 2021, Little was sentenced in January 2022.
2 promoters of nationwide tax scheme sentenced to prison
Ranked at No. 5, “a nationwide tax scheme” led by men in Georgia and North Carolina, and including a co-conspirator in Florida, came to an end. According to the IRS, Mehef Bey and Iran Backstrom, of Georgia and North Carolina respectively, organized a “a nationwide tax fraud scheme to more than 200 participants in at least 19 states” which caused over $64 million in false tax refund claims.
Co-conspirators for the “scheme” included Aaron Aqueron of Clermont, Yomarie Febres, Eurich Griffin III of St. Petersburg, and Rebecca Cyphers of Winter Springs. Their operation ran from 2014 to 2016.
“Their scheme involved recruiting clients and preparing false tax returns on the clients’ behalf by convincing them their mortgages and other debts entitled them to tax refunds,” according to the IRS. “Between 2014 and 2016, seminars across the county were held to publicize the scheme.”
Griffin was ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution, as well as serve 57 months in federal prison for his role in the “tax fraud scheme.”
Sarasota man sentenced to 23 years for $80M FOREX Ponzi scheme
The IRS put a Sarasota man’s $80 million Ponzi scheme at No. 2 on their top 10 list of investigations from 2022.
Michael J. DaCorta was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison for causing his more than 700 victims to lose over $80 million from 2011 to 2019 via an investment company he owned. Along with his co-conspirators, DaCorta used Oasis International Group, Ltd. to “commit wire fraud and mail fraud, money laundering, and filing a false income tax return.”
According to USDOJ, DaCorta had been banned from conducting foreign exchange trading, but used OASIS to convince victims to invest, “falsely” telling them that the company was making large profits as a “market maker.” He told investors that OASIS was both risk-free and well-collateralized.
In reality, the company was not making markets and produced no revenue.
USDOJ said OASIS was showing “spread earnings” by paying each trade made by OASIS back to OASIS, to “create the illusion of revenue.” When investors accessed the OASIS investor portal, they saw “spread” credits, while “catastrophic underlying trading losses” were hidden, according to USDOJ.
The IRS said that DaCorta and his co-conspirators “used the balance of the victim-investors’ funds to make Ponzi-style payments to perpetuate the scheme and to fund lavish lifestyles, which included luxury cars, multimillion dollar homes, lavish trips and more.”
USDOJ said DaCorta also used the funds from his “victim-investors” to “purchase a Maserati and Range Rovers for his family members, a country club membership, multiple million-dollar homes in Florida, college tuition for family members, flights on private jets, and lavish trips to Europe and the Cayman Islands.”
At the same time, DaCorta underreported his income on federal tax returns, claiming negative income, even receiving tax refunds.
In addition to his sentence of 23 years in federal prison, DaCorta was ordered to forfeit $2.8 million.