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Former Clayton tax preparer gets 21 years for fraud

ATLANTA — A former Clayton County tax preparer was sentenced to more than 21 years in federal prison after his conviction for stealing millions of dollars from taxpayers.

Bernando O. Davis, 28, of Stockbridge was sentenced this week by U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. to 21 years and seven months in federal prison and three years of supervised release. Pannell ordered Davis to pay $7 million in restitution.

A jury convicted Davis Dec. 12 of one count of conspiracy, 15 counts of wire fraud and 15 counts of aggravated identity theft. More than 20 victims testified at trial. Davis was detained after the verdict. Prosecutors proved Davis stole identities to file false federal income tax returns that claimed millions of dollars in bogus refunds.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said Davis’ victims span the country.

“This lengthy prison sentence reflects the serious damage suffered by more than 15,000 victims across the country at the hands of a prolific identity thief and tax cheat,” Yates said. “Mr. Davis lied to his victims to steal their personal information, which he then used to file over $19 million in phony tax returns, making this one of the largest stolen identity tax return cases prosecuted in this district. Given the unfortunate popularity of these schemes, the stiff sentences received by these defendants should send a strong message to identity thieves to get out of this business.”

Yates said testimony and evidence presented in court showed that from about July 2010 to January 2013, 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 Lancaster, Ca., led thousands of victims to believe that they could apply for “government stimulus payments” or “free government money” from the federal government by providing their names and Social Security numbers.

Davis and his conspirators used toll-free telephone numbers, web sites, flyers and radio advertisements to advertise the “stimulus payments” and collected victims’ personal information when they applied for the payments, said Yates. 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 acquired 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.”

Yates said that, in actuality, no stimulus program existed, and Davis and his co-conspirators instead used the victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns that claimed a total of more than $19 million in bogus refunds. On the returns, Davis claimed false income amounts and student credits to generate the bogus tax refunds.

“In many of the returns, Davis directed the IRS to pay the refund amounts to bank accounts controlled by him or his co-conspirators,” said Yates. “The victims did not know that Davis had filed tax returns in their names.”

Sonnier pleaded guilty May 22 to conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. On Jan. 9, Sonnier, 45, was sentenced to eight years in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $7 million in restitution.

The court also ordered Sonnier 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.

Jefferson, 48, pleaded guilty Nov. 20 to conspiracy for her role in the scheme. She is set to be sentenced March 19.