Change after $9 million tax fraud case in Tampa - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Change after $9 million tax fraud case in Tampa

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Federal agents are calling a Tampa car dealer one of the biggest tax fraud players in the Tampa Bay area.

Russell Simmons was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison last month.

Authorities say he used stolen identities to file fake tax returns worth nearly $9 million, and succeeded in getting $3.4 million. At his home and business, investigators seized cash, jewelry and debit cards loaded with refund money in other people's names.

All that spending was a clue for investigators.

"He was living way above his means," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the Secret Service Tampa field office. "There was a steady flow of cash coming in and out of his bank accounts."

But the Simmons case, which dates back to 2011, didn't move as quickly as some in investigators would have liked. The case was even held up by local police as an example of problems with the way tax fraud investigations progressed.

Ultimately, the government did lose more money that it had to while the investigation played out, Joyce said.

"I would say, looking back, the quicker you can stem the flow of money draining from the government the quicker you can fix the problem, and that wasn't the case here," Joyce said.

Joyce, local investigators and the IRS all say things have changed since then. Both policies and relationships have evolved to allow more communication and cooperation between the IRS and local law enforcement. The IRS also deputized several dozen officers and deputies in the Bay area.

"We're talking daily," said Jim Robnett, IRS special agent in charge of criminal investigations at the Tampa field office.

Where cases like Simmons and other tax fraud suspects are concerned, there is also an information flow to Washington, where the civil side of the IRS is trying to stop the flow of refund money to those who don't deserve it with new filters to catch fraudulent returns.

"I will tell you that the intelligence that we learn here on our criminal cases – it finds its way to the larger IRS," Robnett said. "And we are taking measures today to close those windows, shut those doors."

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