TAMPA — She taunted authorities to catch her as she stole millions from the IRS. They did.
Rashia Wilson must now spend 21 years in prison, apart from her three children, ages 2 to 12. After watching their mother get sentenced Tuesday, they wailed when the rules of federal marshals precluded a goodbye hug.
The self-proclaimed "first lady" of tax refund fraud, who admitted stealing more than $3 million and is suspected of taking as much as $20 million, dropped her head to a table and sobbed upon learning the punishment.
"She knew what she was doing was wrong," U.S. District Judge James. S. Moody Jr. concluded. "She reveled in the fact that it was wrong."
Wilson, 27, pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, both crimes stemming from tax fraud. In a separate case, she pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Moody sentenced her Tuesday for all three offenses.
Her attorney, Mark J. O'Brien, asked Moody not to be swayed by public pressure. In a sentencing memorandum he quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger: "Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times."
It was a reference to grandiose claims by Wilson on her Facebook page that she was untouchable by the Tampa Police Department, the agency that sounded an alarm about such crimes nationally. (IRS-Criminal Investigations, the Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office joined TPD in the investigation.)
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mandy Riedel, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney, read excerpts of Wilson's Facebook posting in court.
"I'm Rashia, the queen of IRS tax fraud," the post stated, all in capital letters, with a little less punctuation than this:
"I'm a millionaire for the record, so if U think indicting me will B easy it won't, I promise you! U need more than black and white to hold me down N that's to da rat who went N told, as if 1st lady don't have da TPD under her spell. I run Tampa right now."
She predicted she would not serve time.
Where some might see audacity, psychologist Valerie McClain sees illness.
McClain testified for the defense Tuesday that Wilson suffers from bipolar disorder first diagnosed at age 14, and that the "adolescent bragging" in Facebook posts is consistent with manic-phase behavior.
She was born to a mother addicted to cocaine and a father in prison. She failed fifth and sixth grade, then dropped out in seventh. Wilson grew up with nothing, her attorney said.
For a few years, tax fraud allowed an unimaginable lifestyle. She spent $30,000 on her 1-year-old's birthday party, and $90,000 on an Audi.
In the end, dollar signs — not Facebook or a psychological report — caught the judge's attention. "I can't ignore the fact that she stole over $3 million from the government," he said.
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The 21-year sentence includes 210 months for wire fraud, 24 months for aggravated identity theft and 18 months for the gun.
It's the harshest penalty yet in the Tampa Bay area for charges relating to stolen identity refund fraud, which sent car dealer Russell B. Simmons to prison for 15 years.
"We respect the decision of the judge," attorney O'Brien said, "though we were hopeful there would have been a different outcome."
As required by law, Moody ordered Wilson to pay restitution. The amount, $3.1 million, reflects the government loss estimate at the time of plea discussions. Later investigation produced higher estimates, but Moody honored the agreement.
She will owe the restitution with co-defendant Maurice Larry, who has sentencing hearings scheduled for two tax fraud cases: Aug. 6 and Sept. 23. In the second case, his co-defendant is Marterrence "Quat" Holloway.
Holloway signed a plea agreement last week admitting to three counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, aggravated identity theft and access device fraud. He is expected to plead guilty next week.
Patty Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3382.