By Jennifer Johnson
In the summer of 2012, an Examiner investigation revealed that agents doing business under the employ of Dallas-based Syam Tax Services (et al.) were targeting area seniors at their homes and churches, offering to sign up the impoverished elderly and disabled clients for a government-sponsored Social Security stimulus rebate available through the IRS. In actuality, no such stimulus ever existed, and the agents were obtaining the Social Security numbers and banking information of the persons they were claiming to help, ultimately filing false tax returns in the victims’ names and leaving their senior citizen prey stuck with paying back money to the IRS and reclaiming their stolen identities.
At that time, representitives from the local Better Business Bureau were also extensively investigating reports of a fraudulent tax preparer taking advantage of Southeast Texans. The evidence they would uncover would help lead to Syam’s downfall.
Once Syam’s scheme was unveiled 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’s story profiling victim Betty Murphy, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott followed up on the information provided in the story and, in January 2013, filed a civil lawsuit against Syam and two of its officers — Shannon Mays and Marshrief Shead. The group was 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 also froze Syam’s assets and entered a temporary injunction against all the named defendants.
Federal agents, likewise, have been continuing to investigate Syam employees in Southeast Texas, other parts of the state, and even other parts of the country. Federal agents were 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 proceedings, the IRS confiscated most of the business’ remaining records not seized in other official raids.
Hundreds of local victims, more than 600 in Port Arthur alone, according to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Malcolm Bales, 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 tax fraud. Although Broussard is not named in the state’s civil case or in a recent federal indictment 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 50 percent or more that went into 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.”
Dallas area residents say that, despite a temporary injunction barring Syam and its officers from operating within Texas, the company has still been hocking its wares as a legitimate tax preparation business and home health agency. Joe Caballero, who was also a victim of Syam and 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 entered numerous filings for contempt of court due to Mays and his cohorts opening up newly named businesses to peddle their phony wares. 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.
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas indicted Syam owner Shannon Tecoko Mays, 36, on Wednesday, Feb. 5, charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to the indictment, “Mays targeted individuals who were generally exempt from having to file income tax returns because they would be less likely to discover a fraudulent tax return had been filed on their behalf. To further facilitate the scheme, Mays employed ‘recruiters,’ paying them from $50-100 for every client they successfully brought into Syam Tax. In order to avoid detection, Mays altered the taxpayer’s address and phone numbers on the returns so that any phone calls or correspondence from the IRS would not reach the taxpayer. The scheme also used electronic deposits to ensure paper checks would not be mailed to the taxpayer.
“For the tax year 2011, Mays filed 4,226 tax returns claiming approximately $3,150,406. If convicted, Mays faces up to 20 years in federal prison.”
This federal case is being investigated by IRS – Criminal Investigation, the FBI, the Port Arthur Police Department, the Texas Attorney General’s Office – Consumer Protection Division, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Baylor Wortham. Other individuals are currently under investigation as federal agents work to unravel the multi-pronged, multi-state fraud scheme perpetrated on thousands of elderly and disabled citizens across the U.S.