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Appeals court rejects 21-year sentence for Tampa tax fraud queen Rashia Wilson

Rashia Wilson likely will get a shorter prison term when she is resentenced.
Published Jan. 5, 2015

TAMPA — Tax fraud queen Rashia Wilson's 2013 sentencing ended with heart-wrenching wails from her young children as she was wrested away to serve 21 years for owning guns and stealing millions from the IRS.

But the family may not have to wait that long for a homecoming.

A federal appeals court has thrown out Wilson's two sentences, ruling that senior U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. made procedural errors that may have increased her total prison term by more than 3 1/2 years.

Her convictions stand and Moody retains discretion. But he must recalculate the formula he used to determine punishment and he must resentence Wilson, now 29, at a future hearing.

Her former attorney had, in 2013, taken the stance adopted by the appeals court, which ultimately had the support of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

"I am pleased that the original legal argument I made at sentencing was later conceded as legally correct by government prosecutors on appeal," said lawyer Mark J. O'Brien. "The 11th Circuit's decision should result in a significant reduction of Ms. Wilson's sentence."

The appeal was filed by lawyer Andrew Greenlee of Sanford.

The original sentencing was especially complex because Wilson was indicted twice in 2012. In one case, she pleaded guilty to possessing guns, illegal for a felon. In another, she admitted to netting more than $3 million through aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.

Both charges grew out of federal investigations of stolen identity tax refund fraud, and they were filed three months apart.

Wilson, who posed with stacks of money in a photo posted online, became a symbol for Tampa's tax fraud epidemic. She dubbed herself the "first lady" of tax fraud and taunted authorities in Facebook posts to catch her.

But her attorney cautioned Judge Moody not to be swayed by public opinion. O'Brien, in a sentencing memo, quoted former Chief Justice Warren Burger, who said, "Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times."

Moody ran afoul of the appeals court through a far more mundane route: He agreed to consolidate Wilson's two sentencing hearings but instead took up each case separately, albeit at the same hearing.

After he had imposed 18 months on the gun charge, he held it against Wilson as a prior conviction when determining her wire fraud sentence.

The approach hurt Wilson's standing in a complicated formula that gives weight to both the seriousness of offenses and a defendant's record. She also lost an opportunity to serve overlapping sentences on the gun and fraud charges.

Instead, she is serving consecutive sentences of 18 months, 210 months and 24 months.

Now an inmate at Aliceville Federal Correctional Institute in Alabama, she is scheduled to be released Jan. 5, 2031, a tentative date that includes gain time for good behavior and time served.

Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons called the case unusual.

"It's quite rare that a defendant will have more than one case pending at the same time," said Fitzgibbons, who was not a party to the proceedings. "It's not unheard of, but it's not the norm. It creates a more complicated sentencing situation."

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 789-6627.

CORRECTION: The appeal was filed by lawyer Andrew Greenlee of Sanford. Earlier versions of thie story appearing in print and online named a different lawyer.

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