Stockbridge man guilty in $19M tax scheme

Others face years in prison

ATLANTA — A Stockbridge tax preparer was convicted Thursday in U.S. District Court on charges he stole millions in bogus refunds, said officials.

Bernando O. Davis, 27, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and 15 counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for using stolen identities to file false income tax returns that claimed more than $19 million in bogus refunds.

More than 20 victims testified at trial. The scheme affected more than 15,000 victims in virtually every state across the country.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said she was pleased with the verdict.

“Almost every day we learn of another identity thief who has found a unique way to steal personal identifying information,” she said. “The common theme is that the thieves always use the information they steal to commit a second theft — the theft of money. Today, a federal jury brought this defendant’s identity theft scheme to an end.”

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot called Davis and his co-defendants “unscrupulous.”

“These unscrupulous defendants thought they had figured out a clever scheme to thwart the IRS and steal from American taxpayers,” she said. “Today’s verdict clearly demonstrates that taking advantage, manipulating and stealing from the American people will not go unpunished.”

Yates said testimony and evidence showed that from about July 2010 to January, Davis operated Davis Tax Service, a tax preparation business in Clayton County. Davis, working with others, including Kevin J. Sonnier of Ellenwood and Carla L. Jefferson of Palmdale, Calif., led thousands of victims to believe that they could apply for “government stimulus payments” or “free government money” by providing their names and Social Security numbers.

“Davis and his co-conspirators used toll-free telephone numbers, web sites, flyers and radio advertisements to advertise the ‘stimulus payments’ and collect victims’ personal information,” she said. “They also recruited ‘runners’ who promoted the scheme by word of mouth and collected victims’ personal information.”

In addition to the “stimulus” charade, Davis and his co-conspirators got names from a variety of sources, including prisons and homeless shelters, to use in the fraud, said Yates.

“Many victims testified that they had never heard about the ‘stimulus payments,’ but their identities were nonetheless used by Davis and his co-conspirators to file bogus tax returns,” she said.

Yates said no stimulus payment existed, and Davis and his co-conspirators used the victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns that claimed a total of more than $19 million in bogus refunds.

At trial, the evidence showed that Davis had more than 1,600 tax refund checks sent to his home address by listing that address on the tax returns he filed in the victims’ names. In addition to the checks, Yates said, Davis was also receiving thousands of letters addressed to the victims from the IRS, Social Security Administration and other government agencies.

The sheer volume drew the attention of an attentive mail carrier.

“After seeing such a large number of Treasury checks coming to Davis’ home address, a mail carrier seized over 1,000 of these checks and provided them to law enforcement,” she said.

Yates said the wire fraud counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and the aggravated identity theft charges each carry a mandatory two-year sentence. At least one of the two-year sentences for aggravated identity theft must run consecutively to any other sentence imposed. Each count also carries a fine of up to $250,000.

Jefferson pleaded guilty Nov. 20 to conspiracy for her role in the scheme. Sonnier, 44, pleaded guilty May 22 to conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his role.

As part of his plea agreement, Sonnier agreed to forfeit his interest in 17 separate pieces of real estate throughout Clayton County, thousands of dollars that were previously seized from his bank accounts and more than 80 electronic devices and items of jewelry that were previously seized by the government. In addition, Sonnier agreed to a money judgment of at least $7 million and full restitution to the IRS.