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Ronald Williams, dubbed the "jailhouse CPA" by the Syracuse Post-Standard, was convicted last Thursday in District Court in New York of 11 counts of filing false claims for tax refunds, and on one additional count for assisting another prisoner in doing the same.
According to court documents, Williams filed tax returns in the spring of 2007, claiming that he earned half a million dollars in 2006 -- during a time when he was incarcerated. The IRS sent him a refund check for $327,456 in April of 2007 -- c/o the Camp Gabriels Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
The check was intercepted by employees of the state Department of Corrections, who notified the IRS criminal investigation division in mid April of that year. "Thereafter, the IRS re-reviewed the filing by defendant Williams and determined that his filing was false, fictitious and/or fraudulent. Defendant Williams was logged into the IRS system as a frivolous filer," according to court documents.
Over the next few years, Williams filed a total of eleven other tax returns asking for similarly exorbitant refunds, one even going as high as $2 million. In that case, Williams claimed his source of income was a "Penal/Prison Bond," and asked for the same amount as a refund. In another, he asked for $293 million and listed "Export Trade Agent" as his occupation.
"Williams, a likely by-product of having been issued a refund check in the amount
of $327,456.04, became known throughout the correctional facility for his tax scheme," court documents say. "As a result, the defendant assisted numerous other inmates with preparing their own income tax returns seeking refunds."
One inmate filed a fraudulent tax return with Williams' help that asked for a refund of over $60 million. In exchange, the inmate gave Williams stamps and canned food, Marnie Eisenstadt of the Post-Standard reports.
In 2008, Williams was questioned, and "admitted that he prepared other inmates tax returns. A search of [his] belongings revealed numerous tax forms, social security numbers, ID numbers, and duplicate tax forms," according to court documents.
Williams'' attorney claimed that he had filed the returns after an article on the site "The America's Bulletin," a sovereign citizen website that puts out "Prison Packets" to instruct prisoners how to get themselves out of prison.
In 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on the rise in sovereign citizen filings from prisoners, and identified America's Bulletin as disseminating the practice:
America's Bulletin sells "The Prison Packet" to inmates for $22. A green, spiral-bound notebook, "The Prison Packet" reformulates sovereign-citizen theories for inmates, focusing on a nonexistent set of "prison bonds" that supposedly underwrite inmates' incarceration. By filing a blizzard of liens and complaints, the notebook promises, inmates can not only free themselves, but also walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Although outgoing prisoner mail is usually monitored, sovereign-citizen literature often slips by officials because the dense and often incomprehensible jargon they contain doesn't register as glaringly extremist.)
Williams, who was first imprisoned when he was 18, had been serving a sentence for possession of stolen property -- namely a "tractor-trailer full of canned beans off a Buffalo street," according to the Post-Standard.
His sentencing for the new convictions will be in May, when he will face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250 thousand for each count.
Photo from Elnur / Shutterstock.