Feds seeking 24-months jail time for Corina Ifopo for filing false tax returns with IRS

fili@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Federal prosecutors are seeking a 24-month jail term for Corina Ifopo, the American Samoa woman, accused of filing false tax returns with the US Internal Revenue Service for local residents, arguing that this is deterrent to others.

Ifopo, who resides in Hawai’i, is scheduled for sentencing this week at the federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, where she pled guilty last year to 28 counts of filing false tax returns for residents of American Samoa who don't quality to receive the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Through her attorney, Ifopo last week requested a mitigated sentence of one year and one day in custody, followed by three years supervised release — conditioned on payment of restitution of $167,574. (See last Thursday’s Samoa News edition for details.)

In the federal government's sentence memorandum filed with the court, Assistant US Attorney in Anchorage, Andrea T. Steward, noted that there’s no plea agreement in this case.

Steward explained that the investigation of this case started with the IRS fraud detection center identifying over 200 tax returns claiming over $1 million in refunds that were fraudulently claimed by residents of American Samoa.

“These claims were linked with commonalities including a fictional post office box used by the defendant or some or all of related refunds being funneled through accounts linked to the defendant,” Steward points out.

“Of these claims, $795,000 was paid out prior to the fraud being detected. Of this amount, approximately $350,000 was traced as being disbursed to bank accounts associated with the defendant. Of this amount, $167,574 was associated with the 28 counts in this case related to claims filed with venue in Alaska,” the government argued.

Steward also explained that the case is heard in Anchorage based the defendant filing the returns from Alaska to make them appear to be filed “off-island” or other than from residents of American Samoa.

Maximum sentence that may be imposed on the defendant is 5 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment for 28 counts of False Claims, for a total of $2,800, according to federal prosecutor, who notes restitution totals $165,575 in which the defendant owes the IRS.

SENTENCING FACTORS

Prosecutors argued that the “most relevant factors to this defendant are the nature of the offense, promoting respect for the law, and deterring Ifopo and others from committing such crimes.”

Steward explained that Ifopo’s tax scheme was far reaching with over 200 fraudulent tax returns filed in two years. For example, Ifopo was interviewed during a search warrant executed at her home in August 2015 and she admitted that she knew what she was doing was illegal.

“Ifopo was directed to stop filing the fraudulent ‘off-island’ tax returns,” Steward said and revealed that Ifopo filed another fraudulent tax return on February 20, 2016 and this is the basis for Count 28, one of 28 counts to which the defendant has pled guilty.

“Ifopo was undeterred by law enforcement contact,” Steward alleges. She further alleges that Ifopo had different deals for different individuals.

“If Ifopo knew the filer well she would take a percentage of the fraudulent return that she obtained for them,” Steward claimed. “If Ifopo was not close to the filer she would falsely tell them no return was obtained and keep the entire amount herself.”

Steward points out that another very similar case prosecuted in Anchorage federal court, referring to the Pepe Anetipa case, whom pled guilty to 28 counts and owed $202,859 in restitution.

In the Anetipa case, the defendant had double the total amount involved in the scheme - $2 million, said Steward, noting that Anetipa was sentenced to 30 months’ incarceration.

“Sentencing Ifopo to 24 month’s incarceration would not create a disparity with another similarly situated defendant,” the government argued, adding that Ifopo’s fraudulent tax crimes are difficult to detect and investigate.

“A case like this, when it is prosecuted, has significant deterrent value for others who might consider committing a similar crime,” Steward argued. “A significant sentence of 24 months’ incarceration would promote respect for the law, account for the seriousness of the offense, and deter others from similar types of crimes.”

Aside from the 24 months in jail, prosecutor is asking for $167,574 in restitution, and a special assessment of a $2,800. “This is a fair and just sentence,” Steward said.

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