Date: February 13, 2020
HOUSTON - A suburban Houston-area man has been convicted of 15 counts of fraud and tax violations following a two-week jury trial.
Winfred Fields operated tax and bookkeeping businesses from an office on Richmond Avenue in Houston for many years under the business names Fields Enterprises, Your Tax Professionals and The Tax Boss.
At trial, the jury heard Fields participated in a scheme involving the submission of U.S. Individual Tax Returns on behalf of foreign people working on vessels on the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States. These crewmembers were engaged in oil and gas exploitation activities in the Gulf of Mexico.
Evidence showed Fields falsely claimed workers were exempt from U.S. tax under a tax treaty between the U.S. and the United Kingdom, Spain or New Zealand. The employing companies had previously provided to the IRS withholdings from the worker's wages and reported the income to the IRS. However, Fields submitted amended tax returns as well as original nonresident tax forms 1040NR claiming a refund of the entirety of the amounts paid in as U.S. taxes for various tax years including 2007 through 2012.
Fields charged a fee of $2,500 for each crew member's first return and required a $1,000 fee for each return thereafter. He required direct receipt of the refunds so that he could negotiate the checks and take his fee off the top. Fields had some refund checks deposited directly into one of several bank accounts he maintained. Alternatively, he cashed the checks at a Houston check cashing business or had the checks deposited into one of several attorney trust accounts three different Houston lawyers had maintained. Fields gathered the check proceeds or deposited them into the attorney trust accounts after paying a fee to the check cashing business and the attorneys for the service of cashing the U.S. Treasury checks. Fields deposited the proceeds in one of several bank accounts he utilized during the scheme.
Fields agreed to provide the remainder of the refund proceeds to the foreign clients. He did that for a while, but ultimately stopped forwarding any money to the workers. As those individuals began contacting him to ask for updates on their refund claims, he repeatedly sent misleading and materially false responses to their questions.
The jury heard that Fields fraudulently obtained $3,097,974.19 in tax refunds from the IRS and kept approximately $1,302,271.75 for himself.
The defense attempted to convince the jury he acted in good faith and believed the wages were exempt. He also claimed he was trying to pay the crewmembers their refunds but just got behind. The jury rejected Fields' contentions in their verdict and found him guilty as charged on all 15 counts.
U.S. District Ewing Werlein Jr. presided over trial and has set sentencing for May 2020. At that time, Fields faces up to 20 years for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and count of mail fraud. For the other 13 tax fraud convictions, he also faces up to three years in federal prison. He may also be ordered to pay restitution to his victims and up to $250,000 in fines.
IRS - Criminal Investigation and U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melissa Annis and Charles Escher prosecuted this case.