Construction Business Operator Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Tax Fraud | USAO-SDNY

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael Montanez, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Newark Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced today that BILAL SALAJ, an operator of a construction business, pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the IRS, tax evasion, and failure to pay over payroll taxes.  SALAJ pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As he admitted in court today, Bilal Salaj defrauded the IRS by evading both payroll taxes for his business and personal income taxes.  To carry out the scheme, Salaj lied to his own accountant and caused false tax returns to be filed with the IRS.  Now he awaits sentencing for his crimes.”

IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Michael Montanez said:  “When Mr. Salaj made the decision to evade paying taxes for himself and his business, he also made the decision to cheat every honest hardworking taxpayer.  Today’s guilty plea should send a strong deterrent message that IRS-Criminal Investigation will vigorously pursue those individuals who attempt to cheat our nation’s tax system.”

According to the allegations contained in the Information to which SALAJ pled guilty and statements made in court:

At all relevant times, BILAL SALAJ, a citizen and resident of the United States, operated a construction business in Manhattan.  Initially, SALAJ was the record owner of the business, but in approximately July 2014, SALAJ began operating the business under a new entity that, on paper, was wholly owned by a third party (“Individual-1”), who worked for SALAJ in the construction business.  Despite this purported change in ownership, SALAJ continued to exercise principal control and decision-making authority over the business and its financial affairs.  In particular, SALAJ was a responsible person under federal law for collecting, truthfully accounting for, and paying over payroll taxes to the IRS.

Between at least in or about 2014 and in or about June 2019, SALAJ devised and perpetrated a scheme to evade a substantial portion of both the payroll taxes for the construction business and SALAJ’s personal income taxes for the period 2014 through 2018.  During this period, SALAJ cashed, and caused Individual-1 to cash, approximately $3.2 million in business checks payable to the construction company at check cashing facilities in Manhattan, instead of depositing them into the company’s operating bank account.  SALAJ and Individual-1 used a portion of the proceeds from the cashed checks to pay cash wages to employees of the construction business, and spent most of the rest on personal expenses.  SALAJ did not withhold or pay over to the IRS any payroll taxes on the cash wages paid to the employees, and did not report to the IRS or pay any personal income taxes on the cash income he realized through the cashed checks.  As part of the tax evasion scheme, SALAJ fraudulently withheld from his accountant any records relating to the cashed business checks, and thereby caused false tax returns to be filed with the IRS.  The tax evasion scheme, including relevant conduct, resulted in a tax loss to the IRS of approximately $952,778.

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SALAJ, 55, of Morganville, New Jersey, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS, one count of tax evasion, and one count of failure to pay over payroll taxes, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  As part of the plea agreement, SALAJ has agreed to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $952,778.  Sentencing is scheduled for March 3, 2021, at 2:00 p.m., before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding work of IRS Criminal Investigation in this case.

This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Olga I. Zverovich is in charge of the prosecution.

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