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02/22/2012

3 Atlanta business owners sentenced in tax, immigration fraud case

ATLANTA — Three owners of an Atlanta meat supply business have been sentenced to serve time in federal prison following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Rhett Maughon, 49, of Decatur, Ga., Rafael Villarreal, Sr., 42, of Suwanee, Ga., and Marcus Maughon, 47, of Decatur, were sentenced Wednesday by United States District Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. to serve time in federal prison on charges of tax and immigration fraud.

"Today's sentence should serve as a stern warning to employers who perpetuate a shadow economy by hiring an illegal workforce," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "The defendants knowingly hired illegal workers and circumvented our nation's immigration and tax laws for financial gain. The goal of our enforcement efforts is two-fold — reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect job opportunities for lawful American workers." Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

"The defendants' unwritten business ‘success' plan for Atlanta Meat Company included cutting legal corners by hiring undocumented workers and evading federal taxes, in part by ensuring that the cash they received in their business never made it to their accountant's books," said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. "In the end, their plan failed miserably. The secret profits they enjoyed for a short time cannot make up for the years they will now spend in federal prison."

IRS Special Agent in Charge Rodney E. Clarke said, "One of the primary missions at IRS Criminal Investigation is to deter tax fraud through publicizing that offenders are caught and punished. I would like to reassure taxpayers that as they file their tax returns this filing season, the IRS remains vigilant in detecting tax fraud and making sure that everyone pays their fair share."

Rhett Maughon was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to work 100 hours of community service. Villarreal was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to submit to removal proceedings with ICE following completion of his prison term. Marcus Maughon was sentenced to three years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to work 100 hours of community service. All three defendants pleaded guilty in October, following approximately two days of trial testimony but before the close of the government's case-in-chief. Each defendant received the maximum sentence of imprisonment authorized by law.

Significant investigative support for the case was also provided by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Brian D. Lamkin, special agent in charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: "The business practices of these three defendants appear to be based on being above the law. Choosing to ignore federal tax laws and U.S. immigration laws is no way to run a business. The FBI will continue to work with its various law enforcement partners in ensuring that these types of blatant violations of U.S. laws are not tolerated."

"Today's sentencing highlights our efforts to investigate fraud against the Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance program. These defendants falsely reported employee wages and failed to pay related employment taxes for considerable personal financial gain. The Office of Inspector General and its law enforcement partners remain committed to combating these types of crimes," stated Richard Walker, special agent in charge for the Atlanta Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

According to information presented in court: From early 2001 until June 2006, the defendants and two others, who are not named as defendants in the indictment, jointly owned Atlanta Food Authority, doing business as Atlanta Meat Company, which was in the business of supplying meat products to restaurants throughout the Southeast. Some of the company's customers paid in cash. The defendants did not record all the cash received on the company's books, and instead used the cash paid by their customers to pay themselves and employees cash wages.

Employees at Atlanta Meat Company were told when they were hired that they would receive a certain amount as "take home pay." Most employees were paid that amount partly in cash and partly by check. Some employees were paid entirely in cash. The defendants and one of the other owners then divided the remaining cash equally among themselves. The defendants did not report the cash wages the company was paying to the payroll service they used to prepare the company's weekly paychecks. The payroll service prepared quarterly tax filings on behalf of the company, which purported to report all wages paid to the employees and owners. However, because the payroll service was not told about the cash that was paid to the employees and owners, the quarterly filings were false and fraudulent and the Atlanta Meat Company underpaid its employee withholding taxes. In addition, the defendants failed to disclose the cash wages to the accountant who prepared the company's corporate tax returns, therefore, the corporate returns for 2005 and 2006 were false and fraudulent. Each defendant also failed to report the cash he received as income on his personal tax returns for 2005 and 2006.

The Atlanta Meat Company employees who were paid entirely in cash were illegal aliens who lacked authorization to work legally in the United States. A number of the employees who were paid partly in cash and partly by check were also illegally present in the United States and were not authorized to work in this country.

Rhett Maughon and Villarreal each pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count charged in a superseding information. Marcus Maughon pleaded guilty to filing a false individual income tax return for the 2005 year.

This case was investigated by special agents of the Internal Revenue Service, HSI, Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Department of Labor — Office of the Inspector General.