IRS-CI counts down top 10 cases of 2023


Cases include tax, cryptocurrency and COVID fraud schemes

Date: December 11, 2023


WASHINGTON — IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) will count down the agency's top 10 cases for calendar year 2023 on its X and LinkedIn accounts beginning Dec. 11. These cases include the agency's most prominent and high-profile investigations of the past year.

"Billions of dollars in fraud, victims across the globe and criminals who are all about personal gain. That's the crux of 2023's top 10 cases," said CI Chief Jim Lee. "When I say our team at CI is the best at following the money trail, I mean it. Our investigators took down international tax schemes that preyed on people's personal information, investigated multi-level marketing schemes involving cryptocurrency and uncovered one of the largest fraud schemes in history centered around renewable fuel credits."

The top 10 CI cases of 2023 include:

10. French man sentenced for international tax scheme

Ayodele Arasokun was sentenced to 34 years in federal prison for orchestrating an international tax scheme that involved wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Arakosun coordinated a scheme to file 1,701 false tax returns and claim $9.1 million in refunds, which ultimately resulted in $2.2 million in refunds issued by the Internal Revenue Service. He then transferred the money to prepaid debit cards and checking accounts that he monitored. The investigation revealed that Arakosun was tracking more than 700 U.S.-based accounts containing more than $50 million.

9. LA man sentenced to more than 24 years in prison for $5.5 million COVID and tax fraud

Edward Kim was sentenced to 292 months in federal prison for fraudulently obtaining nearly $5.5 million in COVID-related jobless benefits by using the identities of California state prison inmates and other third parties, trafficking fentanyl and methamphetamine, and seeking to fraudulently obtain more than $356,400 in tax refunds. From May 2020 to March 2021, Kim and his co-conspirators submitted approximately 459 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his conspirators used the names, social security numbers, dates of birth and other personal identifiable information (PII) of California state prison inmates and others to fraudulently obtain unemployment insurance funds. Beginning in March 2020, he also conspired with others to use stolen identities to file income tax returns to fraudulently claim Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) due ot the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with his co-conspirators, Kim caused at least 297 tax returns to be filed with the IRS which sought more than $356,400 in fraudulent EIPs.

8. Cryptocurrency founder 'Bruno Block' sentenced to 4 years in prison

Amir Bruno Elmaani, aka Bruno Block, the founder of the cryptocurrency Oyster Pearl, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of more than $5.5 million for tax offenses committed in connection with the Pearl token. In September and October 2017, Elmaani began promoting a new cryptocurrency known as Pearl tokens. Elmaani stated that he planned to develop an online data-storage platform, known as Oyster Protocol, which would allow users to purchase online data storage with Pearl tokens. Elmaani used friends and family as nominees to receive cryptocurrency proceeds and transfer them to his accounts. Elmaani did not file a tax return and reported he had no income to the IRS in 2018. However, in 2018, Elmaani spent over $10 million for the purchase of multiple yachts, $1.6 million at a carbon-fiber composite company, hundreds of thousands of dollars at a home improvement store, and over $700,000 for the purchase of two homes, one of which was titled in the name of a shell company and the other in the name of two of his associates. The tax loss from Elmaani's conduct was approximately $5.5 million.

7. Silk Road dark web fraud defendant sentenced following seizure, forfeiture of over $3.4 billion in cryptocurrency

James Zhong was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for committing wire fraud when he unlawfully obtained approximately 50,000 bitcoin from the Silk Road dark web internet marketplace in September 2012. Over a period of approximately 10 years, Zhong executed a complex scheme to initially steal the 50,000 bitcoin, then conceal his activities by transferring this bitcoin into a variety of separate addresses also under his control. This was done in a manner designed to prevent detection, conceal his identity and ownership and obfuscate the bitcoin's source. As part of his sentencing, Zhong was ordered to forfeit all of his Bitcoin, which was valued at approximately $3.4 billion at the time of forfeiture; his 80% interest in RE&D Investments LLC, a Memphis-based company with substantial real estate holdings; $661,900 in seized U.S. currency; and gold and silver bars and coins seized from his home.

6. Massachusetts father, sons sentenced to prison for decade-long lottery, tax fraud scheme

Ali Jaafar was sentenced to five years in prison, and his two sons, Yousef Jaafar and Mohamed Jaafar, were sentenced to 50 months and six months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the scheme. Between 2011 and 2020, the defendants purchased winning lottery tickets from individuals across Massachusetts at a cash discount so they didn't have to claim their prizes from the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. This allowed the real winners to avoid identification by the Commission, which is legally required to identify lottery winners and withhold any outstanding taxes, back taxes and child support payments before paying out prizes. The defendants recruited and paid the owners of dozens of convenience stores to facilitate the transactions. Then, the defendants claimed the full amount of the prize money as their own. In total, the defendants unlawfully claimed more than 14,000 winning lottery tickets and laundered over $20 million in proceeds. The scheme also resulted in federal tax losses of over $6 million, more than $1.2 million of which went directly to the defendants in the form of fraudulent tax refunds. The defendants were ordered to pay $6 million in restitution and forfeit their profits from the scheme.

5. Leader of illegal copyright infringement scheme sentenced to 66 months in prison

Bill Omar Carrasquillo, known on YouTube as Omi in a Hellcat, was sentenced to 66 months in prison and ordered tp pay more than $30 million in forfeiture and $15 million in restitution, including more than $5 million to the IRS, for crimes arising from a wide-ranging copyright infringement scheme that involved piracy of cable TV, access device fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of copyright infringement. Carrasquillo and his co-defendants used legitimate cable subscriptions from companies like Verizon, DirecTV and Comcast, and stripped them of copyright protections to stream the content online on servers they controlled. Customers simply had to pay a monthly $15 fee to subscribe to their illegal streaming services which showcased sporting events, shows and movies.

4. New Hampshire man sentenced to 8 years in prison for operating a bitcoin money laundering scheme

Ian Freeman was sentenced to 96 months in prison and two years of supervised release in October 2023. He must also pay a fine of $40,000 for laundering over $10 million in proceeds from romance scams and other internet fraud by exchanging U.S. dollars for bitcoin. Freeman was ordered to pay restitution to victims in an amount to be determined on a later date. By failing to register his business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network as required by law, disabling anti-money laundering features on his bitcoin kiosks, and ensuring that bitcoin customers did not tell him what they did with their bitcoin, Freeman created a business that catered to fraudsters. Records and exhibits in Freeman's trial proved that as part of the conspiracy, Freeman and his co-conspirators opened and operated accounts at financial institutions in the names of various churches including the Shire Free Church, the Church of the Invisible Hand, the Crypto Church of New Hampshire, and the NH Peace Church. Freeman instructed bitcoin customers, who were often victims of scams, to lie to financial institutions and describe their deposits as church donations. From 2016 to 2019, he paid no taxes, and concealed his income from the Internal Revenue Service.

3. Co-founder of multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency scheme OneCoin sentenced to 20 years in prison

Karl Sebastian Greenwood, a citizen of Sweden and the United Kingdom, who co-founded OneCoin with Ruja Ignatova, aka the Cryptoqueen, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and ordered to pay approximately $300 million in forfeiture for his orchestration of the massive OneCoin fraud scheme. OneCoin, which began operations in 2014 and was based in Sofia, Bulgaria, marketed and sold a fraudulent cryptocurrency by the same name through a global multi-level-marketing network. As a result of misrepresentations that Greenwood, Ignatova, and others made about OneCoin, millions of victims invested over $4 billion in the fraudulent cryptocurrency.

2. Former CFO of Russian natural gas company sentenced to more than 7 years in prison for tax crimes

Mark Anthony Gyetvay was sentenced to 86 months in federal prison, 36 months of probation, and ordered to pay over $4 million in restitution to the IRS for failing to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), making a false statement to the IRS, and willfully failing to file tax returns. Gyetvay is a certified public accountant and was the chief financial officer of Novatek, a large Russian Gas Company. From 2005 to 2015, Gyetvay concealed his ownership and control over offshore assets worth in excess of $93 million and failed to pay taxes on millions of dollars of income. Gyetvay also submitted a false offshore compliance filing with the IRS to avoid penalties and prosecution.

1. LA businessman, Utah fuel plant operators and employees sentenced to prison for billion-dollar biofuel tax fraud scheme

In one of the largest fraud schemes in U.S. history, five individuals were sentenced in April 2023 to a range of six to 40 years in prison for their roles in a $1 billion biofuel tax conspiracy. From 2010 to 2018, the conspirators were involved in multiple fraudulent schemes, including money laundering, mail fraud, and fraudulently claiming more than $1 billion in refundable renewable fuel tax credits. The basis of the scheme was to create the appearance of biodiesel production and sale to claim tax credits from the IRS. Lev Aslan Dermen, aka Levon Termendzhyan, was sentenced to 40 years and ordered to pay $442 million in restitution; Jacob Kingston was sentenced to 18 years in prison, ordered to pay $551 million in restitution, and had a $338 million money judgement placed against him; Isaiah Kingston was sentenced to 12 years and ordered to pay $551 million in restitution; Rachel Kingston was sentenced to seven years; and Sally Kingston was sentenced to six years.

Follow CI on X @IRS_CI and on LinkedIn to learn more.

CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, obtaining a nearly 90% federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.