Southern California tax cheat Arturo S. Ruiz told clients he'd figured out a way to successfully manipulate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) out of nearly $200 million, but his criminal enterprise landed him guilty of 42 federal charges and a guideline recommended punishment of a whopping 2,580 months in prison.
A taxpayer-supplied defense lawyer for Ruiz argued that while a Jan. 2013 jury has spoken, the tax code is nearly impossible to decipher and so the defendant's conduct should be consider more akin to an honest, ideological dispute with the IRS over the interpretation of legal codes.
Assistant United States Attorney Joshua M. Robbins had a less charitable view, calling Ruiz a "remorseless" con artist who victimized poor immigrants in an operation that is arguably "the largest and most sophisticated" tax fraud scheme in history.
"Through his company [Old Quest Foundation, Inc. of Fontana] of dozens of employees and agents, dedicated entirely to the scheme, [Ruiz] attempted to defraud U.S. taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars," Robbins told U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton. "Ruiz was the architect and leader of a pair of related fraud schemes that targeted hundreds of distressed and desperate homeowners, many of them poorly-educated immigrants, and all of whom were in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. In both cases, Ruiz enticed those victims to pay him thousands of dollars each in fees by promising to eliminate their debts or obtain for them huge tax refund checks, all through dubious and far-fetched pseudo-legal practices that he had been repeatedly warned were illegal."
Ruiz's attorney sought a 68-month term in prison as punishment. Robbins requested a 216-month term plus nearly $4.6 million in restitution.
In late September inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Judge Staton** decided to send Ruiz--who liked to brag about not filing annual income tax forms--away to prison for 168 months and ordered him to pay nearly $3 million in restitution, although that amount could change after a Dec. 6 hearing on the subject.
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**NOTE: Judge Staton, the newest member of Orange County's federal bench, recently changed her name on official documents from Josephine Staton Tucker.
In 2011, special agents in the IRS Criminal Division busted Ruiz's plot in "Operation Stolen Treasuries."