12 Myrtle Beach area construction workers plead guilty to landmark SC tax case
MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A dozen workers at seven Myrtle Beach area construction-related companies have pleaded guilty to tax and immigration charges in one of the IRS’s largest investigations in South Carolina history, authorities said.
The calls were announced Tuesday morning at a press briefing by the Office of the U.S. Attorney and federal law enforcement in Myrtle Beach.
Authorities said the calls were the first resulting from a multi-year undercover investigation in the Myrtle Beach area and across the coast of South Carolina by the IRS and Homeland Security Investigations.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the operation targeted people in the construction industry who were using unlicensed check cashers to facilitate cash payments to employees, many of whom were illegal aliens.
Check tellers also reportedly provided insurance certificates falsely indicating that employees were covered by workers’ compensation insurance. The below-the-table payments defrauded the United States on employment taxes charged to employees, officials say.
According to the statement, each of the 12 defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to one count of illegal employment of foreigners.
âThose who rob the government, and by extension American taxpayers, will not find refuge in South Carolina,â said Acting United States Attorney Rhett DeHart. âBy evading millions of dollars in taxes and falsely claiming their workers had insurance, these defendants made it harder for honest business owners to compete in the construction industry along the coast of Canada. South Carolina and they left their workers exposed to injuries without insurance. I would like to thank the IRS and HSI for their tireless efforts, as well as our local partners who supported this operation. We will continue to prosecute companies and individuals who try to get ahead by breaking the law. “
The defendants who have pleaded guilty in the operation so far are:
Daniel Lavoie construction services
- Daniel A. Lavoie, 49, of Conway
- Enrique R. Reyes, 48, from Conway
- Walter A. Duran, 45, of Myrtle Beach
- Lisa Caulley Sellers, 57, from Myrtle Beach
- Ming Xue Nan, 52, from Myrtle Beach
- Katherine L. Welker, 39, of Myrtle Beach
Master Calabash Houses
- Marylany Hardman Levino, 36, of Myrtle Beach
- Josafa P. Neto, 43, from Myrtle Beach
Metro Concrete Finishers
- Saul Prieto, 56, from Myrtle Beach
- Martha E. Zarate, aka Martha E. Prieto, 54, from Myrtle Beach
Mansion Design Center
- Marcos Caetano De Almeida, 45, from Myrtle Beach
Paint by numbers
- Johanna A. Carpio, 38, from Myrtle Beach
Authorities allege that $ 15 million in checks were cashed by the defendants, resulting in millions of dollars in losses for the federal government. At least tens of millions of dollars in tax losses have occurred across South Carolina as a result of similar schemes, the statement said.
Evidence presented to the court showed that beginning in late 2018, the IRS and HSI began to jointly investigate the practice of illegal check cashing in the construction industry in the Myrtle Beach area and in other areas along the South Carolina coast.
Authorities specifically looked at construction companies that allegedly use check collectors to be able to hire unauthorized foreigners and avoid paying employment taxes for their workers, the statement said.
To facilitate the program, authorities said, a member of the construction company would meet an unlicensed check teller in places such as parking lots for retail stores or cafes.
According to the statement, the construction company would then give the check teller a check for a certain amount payable to a company that the check teller had created. The cashier allegedly gave the construction company representative cash that would be used to pay the employees.
In return for their services, the check teller withheld a fee of about 3%, authorities said.
âThe IRS criminal investigation realizes the negative consequences of tax evasion on jobs. These defendants mistakenly believed that they could ignore their tax obligations and gain a competitive advantage by doing so, âsaid Mona Passmore, acting special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigations. âThey underestimated our vigorous search for justice and our determination to close the tax gap. We will continue to hold criminals accountable for their role in these schemes. “
Each accused faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for conspiring to defraud the United States and six months in federal prison for illegal employment of aliens.
They also face fines of up to $ 250,000 and $ 3,000 for each unauthorized stranger, and three years of surveillance to follow the jail term. Each defendant agreed to reimburse the IRS, for a total restitution amount of just under $ 3 million.
United States District Chief Justice R. Bryan Harwell accepted each of the guilty pleas and will convict the defendants after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the United States Probation Office.
The matter was investigated by the IRS and HSI, with assistance from the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
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