TAMPA — Look up tax preparer Peter J. Pinaud online and you'll learn he went to prison in the 1980s for refund fraud.
Would you trust him with your taxes? Professionals in the Tampa Bay area did, and some are suffering the consequences.
Dr. James St. Louis, founder of the Laser Spine Institute, was duped out of at least $2.8 million in 2010 and 2011 after Pinaud falsified returns and stole payments intended for the IRS, federal and state court documents allege.
Pinaud, 62, died of renal failure May 15, a month after his indictment on Tax Day.
At least two other doctors are among his alleged victims.
A one-line death notice called Pinaud "Mr. Wonderful," but official records are not flattering.
"Mr. Pinaud lived a very fulfilling life through the ill-gotten gains of his victims," said Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons, who represents St. Louis.
Pinaud owned 35 cars and motorcycles, his collection dating to a 1955 Chevy station wagon. His net worth hasn't been made public, but federal authorities linked him, his latest ex-wife and a son to Pasco and Hernando county real estate holdings that could be worth up to $3 million, including a home in New Port Richey's Hidden Lake Estates.
Court papers also identify 10 bank accounts, with five showing a combined balance of $262,743.
The federal indictment listed 10 victims, identified only by initials: joint filers J.S.L. and J.S.L.; B.S. and K.S.; B.M. and L.M.; M.P. and M.P.; and individual filers C.W. and W.B.
Lawyer Anthony LaSpada, who has a client in that group, said he thinks there may be victims beyond those in the indictment.
"They put their trust in this man and obviously that trust was misplaced," he said.
St. Louis, newly divorced in 2010, filed a joint 2009 tax return with his ex-wife, Jill. Their role as victims in the federal case might never have been apparent had he not later filed a 2013 lawsuit against Pinaud in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, seeking losses plus IRS penalties, interest and attorney fees.
St. Louis obtained a $4.2 million judgment against Pinaud, which, according to court records, has not been satisfied.
The doctor, known nationally for high-tech, minimally invasive surgery centers and locally for the 2008 purchase of a $10.25 million French country mansion in Belleair, declined to comment this week. He referred a reporter to attorney Fitzgibbons.
"I think it's quite clear that none of the victims knew about Mr. Pinaud's background," Fitzgibbons said.
"It's somewhat amazing that he was even in the business of preparing tax returns,'' he said. "But there were many, many physicians and others in the Tampa Bay area who employed him."
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Pinaud touted his credentials as a former IRS revenue agent. But they were sullied credentials.
He lost his IRS post and was criminally charged three decades ago for helping people set up phony tax shelters, according to one of his New York attorneys from the mid 1980s, Jared Scharf of White Plains.
Before Pinaud was indicted in that case, a grand jury in another region of New York charged him in a second tax fraud case.
By happenstance, he had come into possession of mailed tax forms intended for a deceased Fortune 500 executive. Pinaud used the forms to claim a refund for himself, Scharf recalled, much the way modern identity thieves trick the IRS into paying out refunds they don't deserve.
Pinaud also served 28 months for a prosecution relating to stolen car parts that was later vacated and dismissed.
"He was a good guy, really, despite his troubles," Scharf said. "I think he had a heart. He took care of his ex-wife's dogs for her. He did nice things for people."
The not-so-nice ones were laid out in the current indictment.
Pinaud told clients they could reduce taxable income by investing in companies that had lost money. He prepared individual taxpayer returns showing fictitious losses from dormant businesses, the indictment states.
In some cases, he also claimed false business expenses on the returns of medical practices.
St. Louis, in his lawsuit, said Pinaud would show him one set of numbers but give the IRS something different.
"He didn't know a thing," Fitzgibbons said, "and neither did the other victims. What Pinaud did was add partnerships to the returns, and the victims never saw or heard of these. What was sent to the IRS created losses and the money went to Pinaud rather than the victims."
In his lawsuit, St. Louis told of providing Pinaud more than $1.2 million for one year's tax liability and more than $1.5 million in estimated payments for the following year. When it was all over, the doctor wound up owing the IRS that much and more.
And the accountant wound up needing doctors.
Pinaud never made it to U.S. District Court in Tampa to face charges in the case, which was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation.
Prosecutor Josephine Thomas asked a judge to vacate an arrest warrant after it became clear that the tax accountant's medical situation was grave.
Attorney B. Gray Gibbs of St. Petersburg told the court that Pinaud had been confined to bed since early February with end-stage renal disease, Type 2 diabetes and anemia, and would require a stretcher to attend his initial appearance.
On April 30, the prosecutor filed a motion for a physical and psychiatric examination of Pinaud, but it never happened. Two weeks later, a Hudson funeral home reported Pinaud's death.
"I'm not sure he even understood that he had been indicted," Gibbs said this week.
"He was really, really sick from the time he was indicted until he passed away."
The U.S. Attorney's Office, which had tied up many of Pinaud's assets in anticipation of an order of forfeiture in the criminal case, must now decide how to proceed.
It's unclear whether the government will try to get at the assets through a different means, such as civil forfeiture.
"In light of Mr. Pinaud's reported death," spokesman William Daniels said, "our office will be reviewing the facts of the case to determine the most appropriate course of action."
News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Patty Ryan at email@example.com or (813) 226-3382.