A Pennsylvania man entered a plea of guilty on January 23rd to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States and to aiding and abetting the filing of false claims for tax refunds. The government charges conspiracies in many cases. A conspiracy is a kind of criminal partnership. It is an agreement between two or more people to commit one or more crimes. In order to prove a conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office must prove that there was an agreement between two or more people to commit at least one crime, the defendant became a member of the conspiracy knowing at least one of its objects and intending to help accomplish it and one member of the conspiracy performed at least one act for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy. There does not need to be a written agreement or even a verbal agreement. The agreement can be proven by the conduct of the defendants. All of the defendants in a conspiracy do not need to have full knowledge of all of the details of the conspiracy.
According to the indictment, Shamback Francois, 27, engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain income tax refunds by the filing false returns using stolen identifications. At least one of Francois’s co-conspirators electronically filed the false tax returns. The electronic filing alone is grounds for the government to charge a defendant with wire fraud in addition to tax fraud. The filings that the defendant sent to the IRS directed that the refunds be deposited into a bank account in the name of his Tax Service. He did not have a tax preparation service, but had opened up the account in order to facilitate the crime. He then withdrew funds from this account to pay his co-conspirators. As part of the plea, Francois admitted to causing a loss of $425,841.14.
Although Francois faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the conspiracy count and a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for the false claims count. He will most likely not be sentenced to the maximum. He will be sentenced pursuant to the federal sentencing guidelines which are based on the amount of loss in a case like this. The sentence will also be based on Francois’ criminal history category. The federal sentencing guidelines for an offense involving $425,000.00 for someone with no criminal history would be 30-37 months. However, there are many other factors that could increase the sentence or decrease the sentence. Just by accepting responsibility, the sentence is reduced by approximately 9 months. However, if there were more than a certain number of victims, the sentence is increased. If the defendant used sophisticated means the sentence is increased. If the defendant is a leader, organizer or manager as it appears Francois was in this case, it would increase the sentence. But, if the defendant cooperates with the government and that cooperation assists the government in the prosecution of others, for instance, co-defendants, then the government can ask the court to reduce the sentence further.
Francois is scheduled to be sentenced on April 18 before U.S. District Court Judge John R. Padova. Prior to that time the US probation office will prepare a pre-sentence report and make a recommendation to the court regarding what they believe is the appropriate sentence. The government and Francois’ defense attorney will submit their sentencing arguments and the court will consider all of these arguments when issuing its final judgment.
Sentencing is the most critical stage of a case for obvious reasons. My work on sentencing begins the first day I meet my clients. I gather as much information as I can during my representation and present mitigating evidence to the court in the pursuit of the most reasonable sentence.
If you or a loved one are under investigation or facing charges in federal court for fraud, tax fraud or conspiracy, contact the Law Office of Diane C. Bass immediately.