TAMPA — A self-taught guru on avoiding income taxes was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for his involvement in a Tampa-based scheme that snared 1,300 people nationwide.
As a result of the advice that Joseph Nelson Sweet sold his customers, the government lost at least $3.8 million in taxes, officials estimate.
A jury convicted Sweet, 66, in March of conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, corruptly interfering with the IRS and contempt of court.
Before his sentencing, Sweet, of Bradenton, showed no remorse and offered no apology.
"I honestly believe that I had discovered that the (tax) system was based on systemic and institutional fraud," he said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Cherie L. Krigsman called him "an inveterate con man" and "someone who thought he was too smart and too good to obey the law."
"You have not learned anything from this," U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew told Sweet.
Sweet began marketing and selling so-called tax-defier books and strategies in the mid 1990s. In 1999, he joined forces with Jack Lee Malone of Pinellas County.
They claimed people who bought their materials could legally avoid paying federal income taxes by putting income and assets in "sham" trusts sold by their businesses, the JoY Foundation, which had its offices on Hillsborough Avenue, and EDM Enterprises.
They also contended that income generally is not taxable and filing an income tax return is strictly voluntary, officials said.
Moreover, they told clients to send deceptive or obstructive paperwork to the IRS and to hide their income and assets.
Over the years, Sweet also had denied to investigators and a federal judge that he had information on his clients. But when agents later searched his home, they found boxes of customer records.
In June, Malone, 60, was sentenced to five years in prison.