Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Appeals court rejects 21-year sentence for Tampa tax fraud queen Rashia Wilson

TAMPA — Tax fraud queen Rashia Wilson's 2013 sentencing ended with heart-wrenching wails from her young children as she was wrested away to serve 21 years for owning guns and stealing millions from the IRS.

But the family may not have to wait that long for a homecoming.

A federal appeals court has thrown out Wilson's two sentences, ruling that senior U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. made procedural errors that may have increased her total prison term by more than 3 1/2 years.

Her convictions stand and Moody retains discretion. But he must recalculate the formula he used to determine punishment and he must resentence Wilson, now 29, at a future hearing.

Her former attorney had, in 2013, taken the stance adopted by the appeals court, which ultimately had the support of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

"I am pleased that the original legal argument I made at sentencing was later conceded as legally correct by government prosecutors on appeal," said lawyer Mark J. O'Brien. "The 11th Circuit's decision should result in a significant reduction of Ms. Wilson's sentence."

The appeal was filed by lawyer Andrew Greenlee of Sanford.

The original sentencing was especially complex because Wilson was indicted twice in 2012. In one case, she pleaded guilty to possessing guns, illegal for a felon. In another, she admitted to netting more than $3 million through aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.

Both charges grew out of federal investigations of stolen identity tax refund fraud, and they were filed three months apart.

Wilson, who posed with stacks of money in a photo posted online, became a symbol for Tampa's tax fraud epidemic. She dubbed herself the "first lady" of tax fraud and taunted authorities in Facebook posts to catch her.

But her attorney cautioned Judge Moody not to be swayed by public opinion. O'Brien, in a sentencing memo, quoted former Chief Justice Warren Burger, who said, "Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times."

Moody ran afoul of the appeals court through a far more mundane route: He agreed to consolidate Wilson's two sentencing hearings but instead took up each case separately, albeit at the same hearing.

After he had imposed 18 months on the gun charge, he held it against Wilson as a prior conviction when determining her wire fraud sentence.

The approach hurt Wilson's standing in a complicated formula that gives weight to both the seriousness of offenses and a defendant's record. She also lost an opportunity to serve overlapping sentences on the gun and fraud charges.

Instead, she is serving consecutive sentences of 18 months, 210 months and 24 months.

Now an inmate at Aliceville Federal Correctional Institute in Alabama, she is scheduled to be released Jan. 5, 2031, a tentative date that includes gain time for good behavior and time served.

Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons called the case unusual.

"It's quite rare that a defendant will have more than one case pending at the same time," said Fitzgibbons, who was not a party to the proceedings. "It's not unheard of, but it's not the norm. It creates a more complicated sentencing situation."

Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 789-6627.

CORRECTION: The appeal was filed by lawyer Andrew Greenlee of Sanford. Earlier versions of thie story appearing in print and online named a different lawyer.

Comments
Jobsite’s ‘The Tempest’ balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

Jobsite’s ‘The Tempest’ balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

TAMPA — The Tempest begins with shadow play, a ship tossed on high seas. Projected onto a backdrop, the shadow of that ship looks proportionate to the waves that rock it. You see this, even as a daemonic holds a toy replica in her hand, the actual sh...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

ST. PETE BEACH — A year ago, the longtime owners of the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center acknowledged they couldn’t afford the improvements it needed. They sold the 382-room hotel to a Texas company.Now the new owner has launched a $15 million...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
St. Pete spilled 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou

St. Pete spilled 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou

ST. PETERSBURG — It may be a new year but the city finds itself still dealing with an old problem: spills at its sewage plants.The city announced Thursday that two spills at its Northeast sewage plant at 1160 62nd Ave. NE had been contained.But the r...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

MoviePass is a film nerd’s dream. The subscription service allows users to see one movie a day at a theater for a single monthly cost. The service isn’t new, but it’s become popular among a lot more than movie buffs in the past few months.During its ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

From the food editor: Mastering the frittata, with help from a lot of mozzarella cheese

Let’s talk about frittatas. Specifically, how I can never seem to make one that actually tastes good. They are described in blogs and cookbooks as an easy, breezy dish suitable for using up leftovers lingering in your fridge. Like a quiche, but low-c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida pump prices jump 10 cents, highest in four years

Florida pump prices jump 10 cents, highest in four years

Gas is off to an expensive start this year — the most expensive start since 2014. Florida pump prices jumped 10 cents in the past week to hit $2.54 per gallon Monday, 18 cents more than last month, according to AAA The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay gas ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Crisco, dune buggy and a face-plant: Fired-up Philly fans take to the streets

Crisco, dune buggy and a face-plant: Fired-up Philly fans take to the streets

PHILADELPHIA — Not even a coat of Crisco on light poles across the city could keep Philadelphia Eagles fans from scaling new heights in celebrating their team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 13 years and setting up a rematch with the AFC champion N...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies seek hit-and-run driver who seriously injured bicyclist in Plant City

Deputies seek hit-and-run driver who seriously injured bicyclist in Plant City

Hillsborough County deputies are searching for the driver who seriously injured a bicyclist in a hit-and-run crash in Dover on Monday morning.Deputies say the suspect was driving a Toyota Camry that is now missing part of its right front air dam afte...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Clearwater police investigate taxi jacking near Crest Lake Park

Clearwater police investigate taxi jacking near Crest Lake Park

CLEARWATER — Investigators are searching for a suspect in a taxi carjacking Monday morning near Crest Lake Park.Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw said the taxi was taken about 7:40 a.m. and abandoned a few blocks away. No one was injured, Shaw sai...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Woman, 35, struck and killed while walking across SR 60 in Valrico

VALRICO — A 35-year-old Thonotosassa woman was struck and killed by a car while walking across State Road 60 west of Mount Carmel Road on Sunday night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.Brandi Eckelstafer was walking south across SR 60 just after 8 p....
Updated: 3 hours ago