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Many consider the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill to be the largest disaster in the history of petroleum. When the environmental catastrophe occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the explosion and collapse of an oil rig unleashed hundreds of millions of gallons of unrefined petroleum into the surrounding waters over three months before it was capped. Human lives were lost and the impact on the environment was devastating as the oily, sticky substance permeated everything in its path. An article posted on AL.com tells about a woman who used the disaster as a means to add extra undeserved government benefits to her bank account and yet another method to her repertoire of fraudulent practices.
The story states that the woman was already serving a prison sentence of one year and a day for trying to defraud the fund set up to settle oil spill claims. (Apparently, her husband was in on the scam as well and recently finished serving a prison sentence related to an oil spill claim. Lucky for them, the judge staggered their prison terms so one parent could be with their two children who are under the age of five.)
Apparently, the oil spill claim was just one part of this woman’s scheme to collect benefits she did not deserve. While operating a tax preparation business two years prior to the disaster and during 2010, the woman prepared and filed more than 2,000 tax returns, generating about $2.5 million in receipts. As a result of her successful business, she received nearly $230,000 in taxable income. (There’s nothing wrong with earning an honest living; however, she failed to report her income. That’s where things became a bit sticky.)
Not only did she evade taxes by not reporting her income, she also reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that she had no household income, cash or money in her bank account. (Maybe it washed away during the oil spill?) She continued the ruse by submitting false applications over three years and as a result, received nearly $24,000 in SNAP benefits, which were loaded monthly onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.
The 33-year-old woman pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud and was sentenced to two additional years in prison. She is required to forfeit $23,757 to the government and pay restitution in the same amount plus interest to SNAP for benefits she was ineligible to receive over four years. In addition, the fraudster will also pay $134,448 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service for the taxes she did not pay over three years and a $7, 500 fine. (Good job judge. That ought to do it.)
Just as oil attaches itself to everything and permeates anything in its path, fraud can also become all encompassing. Once criminals are lured into the illegal benefits of fraud, they can become stuck in a world where they think they deserve to receive benefits they are stealing, even though they do not deserve them. Greed causes them to destroy the chance for others to receive deserved assistance and entraps them in a penal system that is forced to clean up the mess left behind.
Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”McCalla Woman Sentenced in Food Stamp Fraud, Tax Evasion,” posted on AL.com on September 21, 2015.
A McCalla woman, already serving a year-and-a-day sentence for trying to defraud the Gulf Coast oil spill claims fund, will have to spend more time in federal prison after being sentenced Monday for food stamp fraud and evading income taxes charges.
Sherica Lacey Lee, 33, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler to two years in prison for her guilty plea to one count each of tax evasion and wire fraud.