GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Amanda Brook Ely, the first of five defendants connected to a Lansing area family-run tax scheme, was sentenced to three years of probation and full restitution, in federal court today.
The scheme involved deceiving citizens into providing their personal identification information by promising them “free stimulus money.” Many of the victims in this case were homeless persons or suffered from addiction and disability issues. The tax returns typically contained false reporting of undocumented income and abusive use of the Earned Income credit.
Ely, 22-years-old, and the mother of two minor children, requested leniency from the sentencing court due to her being only 18 years old when she participated in the tax fraud. She also advised the court that she was “significantly influenced” by the Chiwocha family. She had no prior criminal history. Four other co-defendants in this tax fraud scam face sentencing in the next 30 days.
“My office has no tolerance for those who take advantage of the trust of the vulnerable only to scam the system and line their own pockets,” stated U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles. He was joined in the announcement by Jarod J. Koopman, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Detroit Division.
Complaints by local citizens prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a criminal investigation, including obtaining multiple search warrants to seize evidence of a tax fraud scheme. During the multi-year investigation, more than 50 subpoenas were issued to track down the tax refunds which had been paid into numerous bank accounts. In some instances, the personal identification information was used to file a tax return in a successive year. In an earlier prosecution, Taka Chiwocha-Crowell pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 42 months’ incarceration.
The IRS estimates that Ely and her co-defendants were collectively responsible for filing 965 false tax returns, and receiving payments of $1,403,367.07 in false tax refunds. For her part, Ely was sentenced for receiving approximately $32,000 in false federal tax refunds. Ely had directed the IRS to direct payment of some of the false refunds to a bank account named “Forever Free Financial.”
The investigation was conducted by the Lansing Office of the FBI and the Lansing Office of IRS Criminal Investigations. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. MacDonald.