LAS VEGAS, Nev. – As the May 17 tax filing deadline approaches, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada and IRS Criminal Investigations remind taxpayers to please pay careful attention to their reporting and filing obligations (and to timely pay all taxes due), and urge taxpayers to choose their return preparers wisely.
“Tax offenses are neither victimless nor without consequence, as taxes are how governments provide essential services,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou for the District of Nevada. “Taxpayers are encouraged to visit the IRS website for tips on filing a tax return accurately and on searching for a reputable return preparer. Please keep in mind that criminals often use the tax filing deadline as an opportunity to steal personal and financial information.”
“The 2020 tax year included new tax laws, stimulus payments, and unemployment income benefits that may affect your tax return,” said Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez Jr. of IRS Criminal Investigation. “And as the American public begins to recover from the ongoing pandemic, taxpayers still have an obligation to file and pay their taxes. It is extremely important to report all taxable income to avoid the potential for further financial hardship.”
In collaboration with the IRS and other law enforcement partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been investigating and prosecuting a broad array of tax offenses, from identity theft to businesses and white-collar professionals underreporting income.
Identity Theft Prosecution
- On October 7, 2020, a Las Vegas man was sentenced to 70 months in prison for mail and wire fraud conspiracy, following his jury trial convictions. The trial evidence proved that from January 2009 through April 2011, Terry Williamson and his co-conspirators filed false tax returns with the IRS to fraudulently obtain tax refunds. To facilitate the fraud, they used the names and social security numbers of deceased taxpayers. More than 480 fraudulent tax refund checks — totaling almost $2 million — were deposited into Williamson’s account.
Prosecution of Tax Return Preparers
- On March 18, 2021, a Las Vegas tax preparer pleaded guilty to preparing fraudulent tax returns over a seven year span and causing nearly $3 million in tax loss to the IRS. Anita Edoria Santa Ana, the owner and operator of Santana Tax Service and Silver Income Tax LLC, falsified clients’ tax returns by claiming deductions and exemptions to which the clients were not entitled. Santa Ana is currently awaiting sentencing.
- On December 3, 2020, a Las Vegas tax preparer pleaded guilty to preparing and filing fraudulent tax returns on behalf of her clients and causing at least $1.5 million in tax loss to the IRS. Baby Vasquez Beltran, the owner and operator of Speed Refund Tax Services, falsified clients’ tax returns by claiming deductions and exemptions to which the clients were not entitled. Beltran is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecution of White-Collar Professionals
- On April 7, 2021, a married couple was indicted for their alleged roles — in connection with a sleep study fraud scheme — to evade payment of taxes on more than $1.1 million in income. As alleged, Oganes Berberyan and Valentina Zemlyak evaded paying federal income taxes owing and due on income from the fraud scheme, as well as from other sources. They had bank accounts in business names pay their personal expenses directly, including approximately $1.14 million in payments towards the purchase of real property and mortgage payments. In each of tax years 2014 through 2016, Berberyan and Zemylak had a joint taxable income greater than the amount they reported to the IRS. Berberyan and Zemlyak are currently awaiting a jury trial.
- On October 15, 2020, a former Las Vegas and New York resident was indicted for his alleged participation in an investment fraud scheme. Mykalai Kontilai allegedly misappropriated $6.1 million in investor funds, manufactured evidence to mislead an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and concealed the proceeds of his fraudulent scheme from the IRS. As alleged, Kontilai lured investors into giving him money to start an e-commerce auction business. Kontilai led bank officials to believe that money he withdrew was for business purposes, when in fact it was for himself. Kontilai failed to file tax returns for tax years 2015 through 2018 when he was engaged in the alleged scheme.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The IRS has information on its website for choosing a tax preparer, has launched a free directory of federal tax preparers, and offers information on how to avoid “ghost” tax preparers, whose refusal to sign a return should be a red flag to taxpayers. The IRS also has a list of important reminders for taxpayers who are about to file their 2020 tax returns, including how to prepare for a smooth filing process.