Indictment and plea in two Tampa tax fraud cases

TAMPA — A used car dealer accused of accepting fraudulent tax refund checks as payment by customers and filing his own false tax returns has been indicted on a variety of fraud charges in a scheme that netted $1.17 million, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

Russell B. Simmons Jr., 42, who operated Simmons Auto Sales, 4615 N 34th St., Tampa, was indicted on charges of tax fraud, identity theft, wire fraud, theft of government property and filing false returns.

Simmons accepted federal tax refund checks that he knew were obtained fraudulently "with a much higher value than the price of the vehicles he sold, keeping the difference for himself," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida said Tuesday.

"Stealing identities and filing false tax returns is a serious crime that hurts innocent taxpayers," IRS criminal investigation chief Richard Weber said in a statement.

Simmons was first arrested in late 2011 after police searched his business and found 134 TurboTax cards, two Jaguars, a Bentley and $38,000 in cash and money orders. At the time, he was charged with grand theft and identity theft, not tax fraud.

In an unrelated case, Arswaya Ralph, 33, of Riverview, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Tampa federal court to filing a false income tax claim and identity theft. She will be sentenced later this year.

In 2010, Ralph filed 65 fraudulent tax returns with a value of $467,000, according to her plea agreement. The scheme was so brazen that Ralph held "drop parties" where she and others filed numerous fraudulent returns, prosecutors say.

Law enforcement authorities said they found $27,000 in Ralph's bedroom closet when they searched her home.

The cases are a product of Operation Rainmaker, a yearlong effort by local and federal law enforcement that has intercepted at least 10,000 fraudulent returns worth more than $100 million, federal officials say. In addition to federal agencies, both the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office are taking part.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Indictment and plea in two Tampa tax fraud cases 05/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 12:32am]

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