Zim woman blames late husband in $3.6 million tax fraud
*This artilce is taken from MichiganLive
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan: An Okemos woman who conspired with her late husband, a former Lansing Community College professor, to obtain $3.6 million in false tax returns, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
Callista Suzena Chiwocha, 64, was sentenced this week by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids to the maximum penalty.
Her husband, Tapera Albert Chiwocha Sr., 75, died in July while awaiting sentencing.
“This may have been Ms. Chiwocha’s first experience breaking the law, but she did it in a big way,” Jonker said.
Others have already been sent to prison in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office called “an extended family enterprise.”
Chiwocha was ordered to pay $3,627,401 in restitution. The judge also held her company, Human Services Associates LLC, which Chiwocha tried to dissolve during the investigation, responsible for the restitution.
“The Chiwochas and Human Services Associates, LLC pillaged the U.S. Treasury for a period of 10 months in 2011 and reaped an enormous amount of illegitimate refund money – over $3.6 million – in the process,” Acting-U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement.
“Their crime was brazen and outrageous and is the very type of crime that breeds cynicism about our tax system, which relies upon honest and voluntary compliance.”
The couple sought $4.5 million in federal tax refunds by causing 3,228 false tax returns to be filed on behalf of others, many of them with little or no income. They “tricked” them into providing personal information after promising “free stimulus money.”
The tax returns included false reports of undocumented income and earned-income credit.
Callista Chiwocha had previously worked in banking and tax-return preparation, the government said. Before the scheme started, the Chiwochas were delinquent on house payments and had been visiting casinos, the government said.
The FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation, acting on tips, began investigating in 2011 and seized over 20 bank accounts, cash and four vehicles valued in all at $1.5 million.
Chiwocha sought a lesser sentence based on her age, her lack of prior criminal record and acceptance of responsibility.
“Nonetheless, especially since she faces a severe sanction and the government is asking for the maximum penalty, she wishes the Court to understand that while she was a willing participant, she was not the originator nor, she contends, the prime mover or director of the crimes … ,” her attorney, Keith Turpel, wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
“The scheme was brought to her and her husband. Her husband has since passed away. This has brought great grief to her.”
He said his client grew up in Zimbabwe under an “extremely patriarchal society” where men led and women followed. She contends her husband got them into the scheme.
She knows she should have argued against the scheme “but could not escape her upbringing and, frankly, her love for her husband.”
She and her husband pleaded guilty March 7 to conspiracy to defraud the government. He died July 1, and the charge was later dismissed.