In summer 2012, a company with agents doing business under the moniker Syam Tax Services and others told tall tales of bogus Social Security stimulus rebates offered to local elderly and disabled residents. In actuality, the company was filing false tax returns in the victims’ names and pocketing half or more of the unearned refund. The victimization came about when the IRS, discovering the bogus return, would demand the victim return the money — all the money.
After an August 2012 investigation by The Examiner revealed Syam’s scheme to the public at large, federal and state agencies began targeting the company in an attempt to keep more vulnerable citizens from being taken advantage of and defrauded.
After The Examiner profiled victim Betty Murphy, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott followed up on the information provided in the story and, in January 2013, filed a civil suit against Syam and two of its officers, Shannon Mays and Marshrief Shead. The group was officially charged with multiple violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act. In response to the state’s enforcement action, Judge Michael Gomez of the 129th District Court of Harris County froze Syam’s assets and entered a temporary injunction against all the named defendants.
“Targeting senior centers and churches, Syam Tax Services launched an apparently well-orchestrated scheme to defraud the elderly – and even worse, those who rely on federal benefits for their well-being,” attorney general Abbott said. “My office is working to put a stop to this despicable fraud, and thanks to the court order we obtained, Syam is prohibited from continuing to violate the law.”
Federal agents, likewise, have been continuing to investigate Syam employees in Southeast Texas, other parts of the state, and now even other parts of the country. Federal agents have been witnessed not only confiscating multiple boxes of evidence from a Port Arthur household belonging to Diana Broussard, a local purveyor of the Syam tax scheme, but they were also spotted removing multiple boxes of evidence from a Syam office in the Dallas area. According to filings on behalf of Syam owner Shannon Mays in the Houston district court, the IRS confiscated most of the business’ remaining records not seized in other official raids.
Multiple victims allege they have been duped by Syam agents such as Port Arthur’s Broussard, and are now hoping for a reprieve from the straits imposed by the identity theft and tax fraud. Although Broussard is not named in the state’s case, she is identified by Theodore Victor of Port Arthur, who has filed charges against the proclaimed “stimulus” agent for identity fraud through the Port Arthur Police Department and the IRS. Still, barring official intervention at the state and national level, Victor and hundreds of victims like him face repaying both the money deposited in their accounts and the account of Syam reps who filed fraudulent tax returns in Victor’s name without his knowledge or consent.
“The IRS said I had to prove I didn’t know (Broussard) was filing these false tax returns for me or else I’m responsible for everything,” the 61-year-old Victor said. “I can maybe make payments or something, but I’m very worried. There’s no telling what they can do with your identity. This could be just the beginning.”
UPDATE: Dallas area residents say that, despite a temporary injunction barring Syam and its officers from operating within Texas, the company is still selling its services as a legitimate tax preparation business and home health agency. Joe Caballero, a victim of Syam who is still trying to recover from the problems it caused when the tax preparer stole his identity, said he was shocked to come home from work to find a flier offering professional services from a company he says is criminal.
“I can’t believe they’re still doing it,” Caballero told The Examiner. “They use the same office, the same name, like nothing ever changed.”
In the time since the attorney general brought proceedings against Syam and its owners, the prosecution has submitted numerous filings for contempt of court. In response to the contempt charges, the state took control of additional funds from Syam LLC, Mays and Shead totaling roughly $1 million. According to a court-appointed accountant tasked with auditing the associated bank accounts and stock portfolio, approximately $500,000 more cannot be accounted for.
A trial on the merits of the case was set for a Houston area court at the beginning of December 2013 but has been postponed to Aug. 25, 2014.