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A Tampa man reported an income of $18,497. The IRS sent him a refund check for $980,000.

The IRS has seized a Lexus and $919,251 from a Tampa man who got a $980,000 refund after filing a tax return that falsely showed $1 million in federal income tax withholding.
The U.S. government has filed a forfeiture complaint for $919,251.94 in three Grow Financial accounts, what’s left of a $980,000 tax refund that a Tampa man received from the IRS. He used some of the money to buy a Lexus. {Times files
Published Feb. 14

TAMPA — At a time when millions of Americans are bemoaning their smaller-than-expected tax refunds, consider this:

Ramon Christopher Blanchett of Tampa once got a refund of $980,000. On a reported income of $18,497.

As with most things involving the IRS, this story does not end happily, at least for Blanchett, 29. But it does display a degree of ingenuity, as outlined in a federal forfeiture complaint recently filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa:

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In February 2017, Blanchett electronically submitted a self-prepared income tax return listing his occupation as "free-lancer. '' He had W-2 forms from a Tampa nursing home and a Sizzling Platter restaurant in Murray, Utah.One W-2 showed $17,098 in wages and $1 million of federal income tax withholding. In reality, the complaint says, Blanchett was paid just $2,098 and no tax was withheld. The other W-2, which was accurate, showed $1,399 in income and no withholding.

"Based on Blanchett's submission of the (tax return), falsely representing that $1 million in taxes had been withheld, the U.S. Treasury issued checked number 4038088544305, made payable to Blanchett, for $980,000,'' the complaint says.

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Blanchett deposited the money into two accounts at SunTrust. After freezing the funds for suspected fraud, SunTrust closed the accounts last May and sent Blanchett a cashier's check for $980,000. He used that to open a money market account with Grow Financial Credit Union, "falsely representing that the funds were from the estate of his deceased father,'' the complaint says.

Blanchett then transferred various amounts among various Grow Financial accounts, ultimately withdrawing $49,117 in the form of a cashier's check. On Aug. 9, he bought a 2016 silver Lexus RC350.

By this time, the IRS had realized it had a problem. Pursuant to a federal seizure warrant, an IRS special agent took custody of the Lexus and the remaining $919,251 balance in Blanchett's accounts. The IRS is trying to get back another $809, the amount Progressive Insurance refunded to Blanchett after he cancelled his policy because he no longer had the car.

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Last month, the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa filed the forfeiture complaint for the Lexus and the $919,251. A magistrate judge found that there is probable cause to believe that the $809 insurance refund is "the proceeds of (Blanchett's) wire fraud'' and is also subject to forfeiture. No date has been set for a hearing on the complaint.

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Blanchett, who could not be reached for comment, has not been charged with a federal crime. He was arrested in Hillsborough County in 2016 for possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest without violence. He was ordered to pay $274 after pleading guilty to resisting and a lesser offense on the paraphernalia charge. He also had a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in 2014 but adjudication was withheld.

Neither the IRS nor the financial institutions involved would comment,, citing privacy concerns. According to IRS records, in the year that Blanchett got his $980,000 check the average tax refund was about $3,000.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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