The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a press release announcing a superseding indictment, or revised set of criminal charges, against three Houston lawyers, Deborah Bradley, Richard Plezia, and Jeffrey Stern – the latter of whom, ABC Houston 13 reported, “made national headlines [eight years ago] for allegedly trying to get his socialite wife, Yvonne Stern, killed.” Collectively, the co-defendants and two others stand charged with 21 counts of assorted federal crimes, including tax offenses, conspiracy, and witness tampering. According to the DOJ, the offenses were allegedly part of a complex “barratry scheme,” which, in law, refers to any litigation intended purely to profit off of another – in this particular instance, by “soliciting… clients by paying kickbacks to middlemen.” Most people know barratry by another name, which is mentioned in the superseding indictment: “ambulance-chasing.” To prevent detection by the authorities, Stern and his co-defendants also engaged in various tax violations, including filing false returns, offering false Offers in Compromise (OICs) to the IRS, and taking a series of actions to disguise kickbacks as “legitimate, deductible business expenses.”
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On August 20, 2019, prosecutors unsealed a 48-page superseding indictment listing, in exhaustive detail, 21 criminal charges against Plezia, Bradley, and Stern. Also named were co-defendants Frederick Morris, a legal assistant, and Lamont Ratcliff, who owns a clinic, both of whom were described as “case runners,” or middlemen receiving illicit kickbacks. Included in the superseding indictment were the following charges:
Among the various false documents filed by defendants with the IRS were falsified Forms 1099 (Miscellaneous Income), by filing which, “Stern and Morris caused false tax returns to be prepared and filed… that reported as income… the illegal kickbacks Stern had paid to Morris and others.” In addition, the same defendants “caused a false OIC to be prepared and filed with the IRS,” asserting that one of their associates, an unnamed Houston lawyer, “owed taxes on the inflated income falsely reported in his prior returns.” The full indictment, which is linked above, describes dozens of similar unlawful transactions and filings made over the course of multiple tax years.
To date, only Morris has pleaded guilty, and is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2020. Each defendant faces up to five years for the conspiracy charge. Additionally, each count of willfully making or aiding/assisting with false returns is punishable by up to three years in prison. Obstruction of justice is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while witness tampering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
At the Tax Law Office of David W. Klasing, we have a robust record of obtaining acquittals, reduced sentences, and other favorable outcomes in high-stakes tax fraud cases. If you have been charged with making and subscribing false returns, aiding and assisting with false returns, willful failure to file returns, tax evasion, or other federal or California tax offenses, depend on our aggressive criminal tax defense attorneys for cutting-edge representation informed by more than 20 years of experience. Contact our law offices online to schedule a reduced-rate consultation, or call the Tax Law Office of David W. Klasing at (800) 681-1295 to speak with our California tax lawyers today.
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