Tax scammer preying on SETX elderly, disabled pleads guilty

Shannon Tecoko Mays

After five years of running from justice, this week a Dallas tax preparer pleaded guilty to his role in heading a tax scam that netted more than $6 million by stealing the identity of elderly and disabled victims nationwide. According to evidence presented to the federal court in Beaumont, 39-year-old defendant Shannon Tecoko Mays, doing business under a host of names including Syam Investments, had been perfecting his con for several years, but it was the hundreds of Southeast Texas victims he targeted that got him caught.

An Examiner investigation revealed the deceitful details that led to the arrest and conviction of the admitted fraudster after, beginning in August 2012, an outpouring of victims spoke with the newspaper about someone filing fraudulent IRS tax returns in their names. All the victims had one thing in common: They were all recent beneficiaries of an alleged “stimulus” allotment collected through the IRS and independent filing agents Myra Jones and Diana Broussard/McCoy of Port Arthur. What they didn’t know at the time was that they were, in reality, all victims of a tax scheme headed by Mays through Syam Investments aka Syam Tax Services.

The scheme

The story was simple: Agents were collecting information for the IRS, which was granting stimulus rebates to Social Security recipients who do not typically file IRS tax returns. The story was also a lie. 

According to evidence uncovered while investigating the con-game, these conspirators were instead taking the sensitive information these unwitting victims provided and filing phony tax returns with the IRS in the victims’ names. In return, the victims were given a token amount deposited into their bank account to support the ruse of a stimulus refund, while the scheme’s conspirators deposited the rest of the fraudulently obtained tax return into their own bank accounts.

In order to avoid detection, they 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 $6,000,000 in refunds.

Mary Williams, a stroke-victim on a fixed income, was among those targeted. According to her, she met Broussard/McCoy and Jones while attending a “fourth Saturday” food pantry at her Anahuac church.

“(Jones) said she’d help us get the money we were entitled to,” Williams said. “She said she was with the government and she was here to help us.”

According to the church’s pastor, the Rev. L.A. Walters, Jones only helped herself.

“She made a nice lick off the people in this community,” Walters said. According to the pastor, roughly 300 parishioners sought help from Jones through his church, all giving her their driver’s license, Social Security number and banking information. Further investigation into Jones’ “stimulus refund” outreach revealed she also visited churches in Buna and neighboring communities selling the same false dream.

Diana Broussard/McCoy had also been making a name for herself as a purveyor of the make-believe Social Security stimulus, signing up scores of individuals for the “program” out of her Port Arthur home on Waco Avenue. Like Jones, Broussard/McCoy targeted church congregations and worked through word-of-mouth, bringing clients from as far away as Kountze and Jasper County to her doorstep.

The Examiner spoke with multiple Broussard/McCoy clients, including Theodore Victor, who became suspicious of the “stimulus” rebate after receiving a check from the IRS for a “tax refund” and took his concerns to the Port Arthur Police Department and the IRS.

“I run into people all the time who say they just got some money,” Victor then told investigators, “and they say they got it from going to Diana Broussard.” But what the people from around town who were getting money didn’t know to tell Victor was that someone else was getting money too. When Victor called the IRS to inquire about the tax filing in his name, he was advised that he was awarded much more money than what was deposited into his bank account; however, the IRS would not tell him where that money went.

In August 2012, an influx of calls and complaints was coming into the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Southeast Texas, as well. According to Jay Sheppard with the BBB, the agency compiled dozens of citizen complaints against Jones, Broussard/McCoy and Shannon Mays’ Syam Investments, mixed in with complaints from banks in Groves, Port Arthur, Anahuac and Buna alleging bank customers were receiving an influx of what was believed to be fraudulently obtained tax returns.

As Sheppard and fellow BBB staff began to get more and more information on what was becoming an increasingly larger fraud investigation, she enlisted the assistance of Detective Brian Cater with Port Arthur Police Department Fraud Department.

“Early on when the BBB was receiving calls and trying to secure documentation, he was instrumental in letting us know what was needed for law enforcement to pursue,” she said. “Up until that point, we had made calls to law enforcement and reached out to several agencies … in an effort to define just what type of fraud we were dealing with. Detective Cater helped BBB to pinpoint exactly what questions should be asked and what information was needed from victims. From there on out, BBB was strategic in collecting crucial documentation and made the pivotal decision to contact (then-assistant U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor) Baylor Wortham and The Examiner.”

The raid

The BBB followed up with a town hall meeting, The Examiner with an investigative series, and prosecutor Wortham followed up with a raid at the home of Port Arthur co-conspirator Broussard/McCoy.

The federal search warrant was issued by Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin for the home of Syam rep Broussard/McCoy on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2012. Investigators were tasked with securing, among other things, “documents and information associated with Diana Broussard and Syam Investments ... or any other subsidiary or companion of Syam Inc., and their agents or employees.”

Until then, Shannon Mays was safely out of reach on the other end of a fax machine, shielded behind a string of DBAs and virtually hands-off from victims, the contact of the scam perpetrated by “recruiters” like Broussard/McCoy and Jones. Then, The Examiner paid Mays a visit.

First trying to locate Mays in Houston where Jones advised he would be proved fruitless. A woman at the address of Syam Investments in Houston wouldn’t allow admittance to the business that was shielded by bars and locks, and wouldn’t advise as to where her boss could be reached.

Running Syam Investments Houston, Syam Tax Services L.L.C., Baby Momma Tax, Syam Investments New Orleans, Syam Tax Services in Dallas, Syam Investments Dallas, Niia Shamr Insurance in Dallas, Syam Home Healthcare in Dallas and Five Mill Records in Dallas, businessman Shannon Mays had many hats to wear, but was found in house shoes and shorts outside the Dallas Syam Investment headquarters in August 2012. He balked at allegations of identity theft and IRS fraud. Mays said the company encompassed many facets of service, but all the businesses were legitimate enterprises.

“No one has filed a complaint with me,” he said. Mays later said an officer from the Port Arthur Police Department had contacted him about allegations of improperly using someone’s identification, but it didn’t seem significant to him at the time. “Anyone can find me anytime just like you did. It’s not hard to reach me.”

Charged with the crime of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on the same allegations he was confronted with by Examiner staff outside his shop, Mays did prove harder to find when he skipped out on a $50,000 bond and court appearances in federal court in January 2015. He was then on the lam until he was captured by U.S. Marshals in August 2017.

Although Mays denied Broussard/McCoy and Jones worked for him, he did acknowledge paying them for their services – which included signing up people for tax returns.

“I see that I’m going to have to double-check the referrals I get from them,” he said. “Whatever it is they’re doing, you need to talk to them. I run an honest business.”

Mays refused to allow reporters into his “honest business” offices in Dallas either.

“Shannon Mays was able to deceive his victims by cleverly recruiting individuals well known in their communities,”  Sheppard said of her knowledge of the scheme.  “It is reprehensible that the church atmosphere was also used to lure victims in, as well.  The victims were approached in what they perceived as a safe setting and they trusted these people enough to freely give out their personal information — very tricky.”

The guilty

Federal prosecutor Bob Rawls, who picked up the case after Wortham was elected to a judgeship, said there were many “recruiters” like Broussard/McCoy and Jones working for Mays and Syam, assisting him in collecting at least 2,500 fraudulent tax returns using the identifying information of unsuspecting victims between the years of 2007 and 2011.

Although she appeared in many of the documents related to the scheme, Mays’ partner and spouse Marshrief Shead was not charged with any crime. Rowls said that Shead was named on the $50,000 bond that Mays forfeited when he absconded from justice and failed to make court dates for over a year before the U.S. Marshals caught up to him, but he was uncertain of her responsibility for that debt. 

Jones was sentenced to serve three years probation in 2014 for a guilty plea to one count of false personation of an officer or employee of the United States for posing as an IRS agent. She was additionally ordered to perform 40 hours of community service, and pay a $200 fine and $100 special assessment fee. No restitution was ordered.

Broussard/McCoy was sentenced to four years probation in 2015, with home detention for the first six months. She was additionally order to pay restitution of $45,000, along with co-conspirator Shannon Mays, and a special assessment fee of $100. If retrieved, those funds would be added to the $1,282,000 the Texas attorney general secured from Syam Tax Service bank accounts in 2014, which was returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Prosecutor Rawls said that it will probably be another 90 days or so before Mays’ sentence is known. According to Rawls, the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered Mays a plea deal, but the offer was rejected. When Mays pleaded guilty to felony counts of wire fraud conspiracy and obstruction charges before U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn on Oct. 2, the defendant did so without any provisions in place. Mays faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the wire fraud conspiracy charge and 10 years in prison on the obstruction charge, of which the sentence for obstruction must run consecutive. A sentencing date before Chief Judge Ron Clark will be set after completion of a presentence report.

In the interim, Rawls said that the IRS has made changes to its systems to prevent fraud like that exacted by Mays and his crew.

“Each time one of these tax filings schemes occurs, the IRS adapts to it and changes its procedures to combat this sort of fraud,” Rawls said. “Our country has a voluntary tax system and the vast majority of tax preparers are honest. The vast majority of tax payers file on time. The vast majority do the right thing.”

Others, don’t, he said – but warns those who would scheme against the IRS that the penalty can be severe.

“It’s a very high-risk proposition,” to scam the IRS, Rawls said. “They have a lot of experience in detecting fraud schemes and prosecuting them. Eventually, tax return preparers who defraud the government are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.