Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

California dreaming? Tampa tax fraud fraudster wants Bentley back from West Coast

TAMPA — Tax refund thief Russell B. Simmons wants the government to return his green Bentley Continental GT coupe and other gems he forfeited in a plea deal that sent him to prison.

Tilt your ear west now and hear Andre Grossi's laughter, from nearly 2,500 miles away.

He's the Costa Mesa, Calif., car dealer who bought the Bentley at an auction and has it on eBay.

But wait. This Bentley is white.

"I painted it," said Grossi of Source Motors. "Not too many people want a green Bentley."

Make that Barnato green, a color named for a British race car driver. But green is out and Designo Magno Cashmere white is in — not unlike Simmons, 43, projected to be released in 2024.

In a court motion signed on Valentine's Day from inside Coleman Correctional Institution, Simmons asked for the return of eight pieces of jewelry containing more than 3,323 diamonds, plus $143,275 in cash and money cards, and the car.

He's one of scores in the Tampa Bay area sent to prison for using other people's identities to file fraudulent claims for income tax refunds, a crime that at one point cost the nation at least $5.2 billion a year.

The Bentley, much like Maurice Larry's blinged-out Camaro, became a symbol of tax fraud excess when images of its seizure accompanied news reports.

Such spoils of crime, forfeited under order of federal judges, sell at online auctions under government contract. The IRS screens high bidders. Proceeds trickle back to the Treasury.

In his self-filed court motion, Simmons invoked a federal rule governing seizure. It states, in part: "A person aggrieved … by the deprivation of property may move for the property's return."

But not after the property has already been ordered forfeited by a judge and is part of a sentence, the government responded.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Natalie Hirt Adams reminded Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli that Simmons consented in a plea agreement to owe the government nearly $1.2 million and to give up the car, cash and jewelry.

He was originally sentenced to 15 years on charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, but prosecutors helped to shave 2 1/2 years off that sentence for his assistance in a drug case.

Along with asking for the return of valuables, Simmons requested yet another reduction in his sentence.

Both motions are pending.

As for the Bentley, a federal contractor auctioned it off for $53,450, records show. Source Motors' set a minimum bid of $55,200 on eBay.

The car passed a California emissions check and awaits a new owner, just a few minutes from the Pacific Coast Highway.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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