Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pierre: Affirming convictions and sentences for $1.9 million fraudulent tax refunds

In U.S. v. Pierre, No. 14-10589 (June 14, 2016), the Court affirmed the convictions and sentences of defendants charged with fraudulently obtaining approximately $1.9 million in tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Court rejected the argument that a stop of a vehicle for having tinted glass that violated Florida’s regulations was pretextual. The Court noted that probable cause existed for a stop, and subjective motive was irrelevant and that the driver of the vehicle consented to the search. The Court also rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. The jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that a defendant knew the defendants knew that their business was not a legitimate tax preparation business. Turning to the sentences, the district court affirmed the imposition of a “vulnerable victim” enhancement for the use of the identities of prison inmates. The Court noted that inmates “usually do not file tax returns during periods of incarceration, and they are less likely to discover that their identities have been compromised.” The Court also rejected the challenge to the district court’s refusal to grant a minor role reduction. The Court noted that one defendant played a “vital role,” and another, though not a “leader,” had sufficient “participation” in the scheme to support the ruling. The Court also rejected a challenge to a loss amount calculation of more than $1 million but less than $2.5 million. The defendants submitted 338 fraudulent returns seeking over $2 million from the IRS. The intended loss was greater than the actual loss, but the guidelines allow a district court to rely on whichever of the two is greater.