New name doesn’t thwart investigators
A company under investigation for defrauding hundreds of Southeast Texans has changed its name, but it hasn’t kept investigators from targeting the cross-country enterprise. Initially operating under the umbrella of Syam Investments, the company and its officers are alleged to have used promises of a false “Social Security stimulus” to lure the elderly and disabled into turning over sensitive information such as bank account, Social Security and identification numbers. Once secured, the agents of Syam then filed fraudulent tax returns in the names of the elderly and disabled victims, pocketing roughly half of the ill-gotten proceeds from the IRS.
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. In January of this year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a civil suit against Syam and two of its officers – Shannon Mays and Marshrief Shead – officially charging the group 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 restraining order against all 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,” 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.”
But criminal courts are taking note as well. Federal agents have been looking into Syam employees in Southeast Texas and the Dallas area and were seen confiscating multiple boxes of evidence from a Port Arthur household belonging to Diana Broussard, a local purveyor of the Syam tax scheme. Multiple victims allege they have been duped by Broussard under the Syam name 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 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 their names without the victims’ 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.”
Victor’ fears were given credence by the Texas Attorney General: “Based on the results of the investigation thus far, state investigators believe that Syam has filed hundreds of fraudulent tax returns, and may even attempt to use the same taxpayer information to file more fraudulent returns in future years.”
With the Texas Attorney General’s temporary injunction and asset freeze preventing Syam from continuing to violate state law at the beginning of this year, the officers were barred from utilizing any funds garnered from proceeds attributed to IRS filings which were approximated at more than $1 million. According to the Harris County judge issuing the injunction, “The court finds there is good cause to believe irreparable loss or injury would occur …” if not for the court’s immediate action. It was further ordered that Syam Investments, its “officers, agents, employees, attorneys and persons in active concert or participation with them, are hereby commanded to cease and desist and refrain from … preparing or filing federal income tax returns for consumers and third party individuals; … soliciting or obtaining any personal identifying information or sensitive information from any consumer or third party individual; … (and) advertising, offering, or promoting, directly or through others, income tax return preparation services or tax refund services to consumers or third party individuals without further consent of this court.”
All the aforementioned cease and desist orders have failed to stop Syam’s business, however, as an investigation has revealed the company is still in operation – only now going under the name “Baby Momma Tax Service,” wherein the proprietor promises “guaranteed” income tax returns for anyone with a child. The number listed on the advertisements – which can be seen all over the greater Houston and Dallas areas – is the same numbers given to this newspaper as contact information for Syam Investments and its principal officer, Shannon Mays.
Recently, a Baby Momma’s Tax Service office in the Dallas area was raided by authorities from the federal government. Although no information could be gleaned from the investigating agency, neighbors of the raided tax company told The Examiner that approximately 40 boxes of “stuff” were removed from the Baby Momma office and the office was subsequently closed.
Lauren Bean of the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the state agency is also looking into Baby Momma Tax Service as being an offshoot of Syam.
“You are correct, they are one and the same,” she said. “We are looking into them as well.”
Aside from Texas, Baby Momma Tax Service has known offices in Tennessee and Louisiana, with suspected offices in Illinois, California and Georgia. A trial date for the alleged Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act violations is set for July 22. Attorneys for Syam and its officers have filed an answer with court stating that the company and any of its officers had consent from the elderly and disabled persons using their services to file the claims as submitted. Chief officer Shannon Mays, the answer further contends, is a savvy businessman and is ready to put this miscarriage of justice behind him and continue with business as usual.
“Mr. Mays is a businessman and has to conduct business,” Mays’ attorney, Jeffrey Grass asserts. “Irrespective of his good intentions, Mr. Mays is not wedded to the tax business and wants to resolve these issues.”
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.