TAMPA, Fla. — U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore sentenced Russell B. Simmons Jr. yesterday to 15 years in federal prison for defrauding the Internal Revenue Service and for aggravated identity theft. 

The court also ordered Simmons to forfeit a 2005 Bentley, more than $100,000 in jewelry, $25,000 cash and more than $118,000 worth of fraudulently obtained tax refunds, which are traceable proceeds of the offense. Simmons pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft on Dec. 11, 2012.

According to court documents, starting in the summer of 2011, investigators learned that Simmons was engaging in tax fraud at his business, Simmons Auto Sales. Simmons was selling vehicles in exchange for United States Treasury checks obtained from the filing of fraudulent federal income tax returns. The fraudulently obtained Treasury checks that Simmons received were for a much higher value than the sales price of the vehicles sold. 

Simmons negotiated the checks and laundered the proceeds through his business accounts. The investigation also revealed that Simmons filed fraudulent tax returns from his computer located at his business, and maintained a ledger that contained numerous personal identifiers associated with the fraudulent filings.            

On or about July 28, 2011, surveillance video captured Simmons using a pre-paid debit card at a Wal-Mart. Simmons used the card to conduct a transaction totaling about $2,050, including the purchase of four $500 money orders. Investigators learned that on or about July 22, 2011, a tax refund close to $10,000 was loaded onto the card. Simmons was also captured on video on or about July 27, 2011, using the same card to withdraw cash at an ATM in Gibsonton, Fla.  

On or about Aug. 7, 2011, Simmons was captured on video at a Wal-Mart store in Brandon, Fla. He made a total purchase of $11,500, including 21 $500 money orders and two $400 money orders. He also withdrew $200 in cash. Simmons utilized seven different debit cards. Each of the seven pre-paid debit cards were loaded with funds derived from the filing of fraudulent tax returns in names other than Simmons'. 

The fraudulently obtained tax refunds loaded onto cards totaled more than $76,000. The money orders from Wal-Mart were paid for with debit cards that were loaded with fraudulent tax refunds. When Simmons negotiated the money orders at the bank, he made them payable to Simmons Auto Sales and endorsed them with his name. 

Law enforcement officials interviewed several individuals whose names appeared on the prepaid cards used by Simmons. Each of the victims stated he or she did not know Russell Simmons and did not give him permission to use his or her identity.

In total, the Internal Revenue Service confirmed that Simmons filed approximately 120 false returns, with refunds totaling $1,176,787 for the 2010 tax year. These fraudulent filings were accepted by the IRS and resulted in the payment of refunds.

Investigators further determined that Simmons made or attempted to make additional false claims with the IRS that were rejected, with refunds totaling more than $3 million. Records obtained from TurboTax show that returns filed from the IP addresses assigned to Simmons' residence and business transmitted or attempted to transmit federal income tax returns that claimed and attempted to claim approximately $8.9 million in fraudulent refunds.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and the Tampa Police Department.  It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mandy Riedel.

This case was brought as part of Operation Rainmaker, an initiative dedicated to combating the growing problem of identity theft and the fraudulent filing of electronic tax claims. This initiative is coordinated and implemented with the cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Tampa Police Department.