Commentary: Let us prey

Our cover story this week is a sad tale of greed and fraud perpetrated on mostly elderly victims by a slick group of tricksters who ought to be ashamed of themselves. If they aren’t now, they likely soon will be as local, state and federal law enforcement officers catch up with them and put an end to their nefarious scheme and hold those responsible to account in a court of law.

A shadowy collection of companies operating under the name Syam in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston purports to offer tax preparation and investment services from seedy storefront locations in those cities. If all they were doing was legitimately helping low-income residents prepare income tax forms, that would be one thing. But Syam CEO Shannon Mays and a group of rainmakers in his employ are doing much more than that. As our article by Jennifer Johnson carefully documents, Syam Tax Services is collecting information from people to file tax returns on their behalf for refunds those folks didn’t even know they qualified for – because they didn’t. Unfortunately for those trusting souls, the IRS processed the fraudulent returns and sent the checks only to catch the mistake and inform the taxpayer that money had to be immediately repaid.

In many cases, Syam operatives have located their victims through one of the most trusted institutions in these communities – African-American churches. This provided the crooks with a sort of one-stop shopping where they could prey on a large group of victims assembled in one location, gathered in a peaceful place where they feel safe and secure.

There is no indication the pastors of these churches profited from the Syam scam, and to their credit they have responded forcefully when they learned their flock had been duped. In the end, this might spell the end for Mays and the clever Syam scheme. One such whistleblowing pastor was the Rev. L.A. Walters of Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ in Anahuac, who called a meeting at his church to unmask the wrongdoing and give the victims a chance to be heard. Among those listening was Chambers County Sheriff Joe LaRive, who has contacted IRS officials and pledged to enforce the law on behalf of the county residents he has sworn to protect.

The New Testament records in Matthew 21 that Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple. The Rev. Walters and Sheriff LaRive have made a good start on cleaning house in Anahuac. Other pastors who might have exposed their flock to these serpents should do the same. Now.And it shouldn’t stop there. Law enforcement needs to pursue these predators to the ends of the earth. Or at least to Dallas.