Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Nursing assistant accused of claiming $1.7 million in fake tax refunds

EAST LAKE — Carlos Oscar Johnson worked part time as a certified nursing assistant. In 2010, he earned $14,000 at Sabal Palms Health Care Center in Largo, picking up spare shifts.

The government says his next line of work paid $1.7 million.

Johnson, 23, was arrested Friday on a federal criminal complaint that alleges he has filed more than 200 fraudulent income tax returns since February, using other people's Social Security numbers.

Most electronic claims went through an IP address assigned to Johnson's rental in the Lansbrook Village area of northeast Pinellas County; others, through wireless service at a Chase Suite Hotel room in Tampa.

He flashed jewelry in photos, booked the luxury Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas and drove a 2009 Cadillac CTS with the vanity plate "CLSY LOS" (classy Carlos).

He appears to have spent money on others; though, on Facebook, he once noted that no one thanked him anymore.

On Friday, his younger brother, upon hearing of the arrest, expressed shock and anger.

"My brother gave me this entire outfit," said Jerrod Bowden, 19, gesturing to his brown-striped T-shirt and dark jeans. "My brother gives me everything. My brother should not deserve to go to jail for being nice."

Authorities watched Johnson for more than a year.

The investigation began July 31, 2011, when Clearwater police stopped him over a parking violation and discovered five prepaid debit cards in other people's names, each loaded with about $9,650, the complaint states.

His explanation at the time: He found the wallet at Publix.

Police then partnered with IRS-Criminal Investigations.

The complaint does not address whether Sabal Palms patient identities were used. Often, in such cases, victims never learn where private information was stolen.

Several victims are mentioned but only by initials: M.W., L.W., E.T., J.J., J.D., C.C., B.D. and K.R.

Johnson worked from March 2008 to February 2011 at the 244-bed skilled nursing facility, part of a 96-acre campus that includes assisted and independent living.

Mark L. Moyer, the community's executive director, said Sabal Palms performs pre-employment criminal background checks and would cooperate with authorities in any investigation.

Johnson's record check would have shown simply that he pleaded no contest to a 2007 worthless check charge. The judge withheld adjudication.

A month after Johnson left Sabal Palms, he incorporated as Carlos Private Duty Home Care. Later that year, he set up Too Classy Entertainment Inc.

On Friday morning, investigators searched Johnson's residence on Manchester Court.

They towed away the Cadillac and carried out three large flat-screen televisions.

Neighbors said they didn't know Johnson. They exchanged greetings in passing. But they noticed he drove a different car every few months.

Friend Mike Towns, 22, said he grew up with Johnson, both attending New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Clearwater.

"Really good dude," said Towns, who has a tattoo on his arm of Uncle Sam with the words "TAX FREE Money," a relic, he said, of drug-dealing days.

Seeing Johnson set up his business, Towns asked for help registering his own company, 100 Band Entertainment. Johnson did it while Towns was in jail and listed himself as treasurer.

When Towns wore an ankle monitor on probation, Johnson put him down as an employee of Too Classy Entertainment so Towns could say he had a job.

Still, Towns said he didn't know Johnson well. "You know how some people stay to themselves?" he said. "That was him."

Johnson appeared in federal court in Tampa on Friday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins.

Bail was set at $50,000.

An earlier version of this story included outdated information about Johnson's academic status. He was last enrolled at St. Petersburg College during the 2009-2010 school year.

News researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin and photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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