Tax fraudster pleads guilty to 28 counts of making false claims to U.S. gov’t

To visit her family in Am Samoa for a month before sentencing
fili@samoanews.com

An American Samoan woman accused of filing false tax returns for local residents with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has entered guilty pleas at the federal court in Anchorage, Alaska where she also requested to be allowed to visit her family in the territory for the holidays.

Last month Corina A. Ifopo’s attorney filed a motion indicating the defendant’s intend to change her plea, without a plea agreement. She resides in Waipahu, Hawai’i, and has been released on her own recognizance with travel prohibited except to the island of Oahu, Hawai’i and Alaska, according to court documents, which also outlined various conditions of release.

Ifopo, 54, was arrested in Honolulu on July 11, 2017 and charged under a 28-count indictment handed down June 20 by a federal grand jury in Anchorage, where she appeared on July 14 and entered a 'not guilty' plea to filing fraudulent tax returns with the IRS for local residents, who do not qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

She appeared yesterday afternoon before US District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess for the change of plea hearing.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, federal prosecutor Aunnie Steward said via email from Anchorage that Ifopo “pled guilty to 28 counts of making false claims to the United States government. Sentencing is set for March 7, 2018.”

A notice in court records states that no less than seven days prior to the sentencing date, each party shall file a written sentencing memo with the court.

Ifopo’s defense attorney didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News for comments.

Prior to the change of plea hearing, Ifopo had a bail review hearing earlier in the day, before US District Court Judge Deborah M. Smith based on a defense motion filed last Friday, to amend bail conditions that would allow her to travel outside of the US.

According to the defense, Ifopo would like to travel later this month and she will present a proposal for travel to American Samoa to visit with family during the holiday season and requests temporary release of her passport.

If permitted to travel, once Ifopo receives her itinerary, she will provide a copy to her probation officer, along with the home addresses and contact information of the family members she will be visiting.

Additionally, she will maintain regular telephone contact with her probation officer while traveling and upon her return to Honolulu. Upon returning to the US she will surrender her passport to the U.S. Pretrial Services Office.

Steward told Samoa News that Ifopo was granted leave to return to American Samoa Samoa for one month while pending sentencing.

The federal indictment shows 28 individuals, identified in court documents by their initials, with the dates of when the returns were filed with the IRS or when the IRS refunds were issued.

Total loss to the IRS — shown in the indictment — based on the amounts for the 28 individuals is $167,000, although the US Justice Department had an estimated loss of more than $1.3 million.

The government alleges that Ifopo’s crime occurred between 2013 and 2015 with the first IRS refund check issued May 20, 2014 and the last one on Feb. 20, 2016. Ifopo filed tax returns on behalf of over 200 other individuals living in American Samoa — all these individuals don’t qualify for the EITC.

Earlier court filings by the defense estimate the “actual loss in false tax returns paid out by the IRS is $167,000” due to the Ifopo’s alleged crime; however “the intended loss could exceed $1 million.” It also notes the large volume of discovery of over 8,000 pages and 121 financial spreadsheets.

According to the US Justice Department in an earlier statement, the law provides for a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count and a $250,000 fine or both. Under federal sentencing statutes, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

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