Massachusetts man sentenced to prison for fraudulent scheme to evade payroll taxes and workers’ compensation requirements in construction industry

 

Date: July 7, 2021

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

Jacksonville, Florida — U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has sentenced Dennis Alexander Barahona (Chelsea, Massachusetts) to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax fraud. The court also ordered Barahona to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $1,110,257 and to an insurance company in the amount of $41,352.91. In addition, the court ordered Barahona to forfeit his interest in $230,764 that was seized from two bank accounts. The court also entered a money judgment against Barahona in the amount of $263,302, representing the proceeds of the wire fraud.

Barahona had pleaded guilty on March 29, 2021. Barahona's co-defendant, Gregorio Jose Fuentes-Zelaya, was sentenced on May 10, 2021, to 33 months in federal prison.

According to court documents, Barahona established a shell company that purported to be involved in the construction industry. He obtained a workers' compensation insurance policy in the name of the shell company to cover a minimal payroll for a few purported employees. Barahona then "rented" the workers' compensation insurance to work crews who had obtained subcontracts with construction contractors on projects in various Florida counties. Barahona sent the contractors a certificate as "proof" that the work crews had workers' compensation insurance, as required by Florida law. By sending the certificate, Barahona falsely represented that the work crews worked for his company. Over the course of the scheme, Barahona "rented" the certificates to dozens of work crews.

As part of the scheme, the contractors issued payroll checks for the workers' wages to the shell company and Barahona or a co-conspirator cashed these checks, then distributed the cash to the work crews after deducting their fee, which was typically about 6% of the payroll. During the scheme, the conspirators cashed payroll checks totaling approximately $4,388,371, with their fees totaling approximately $263,302. Neither the shell company nor the contractors reported to government authorities the wages that were paid to the workers, nor did they pay either the employees' or the employer's portion of payroll taxes – including Social Security, Medicare, and federal income tax. According to the IRS, the amount of payroll taxes due on wages totaling $4,388,371 was approximately $1,110,257.

The scheme also facilitated the avoidance of the higher cost of obtaining adequate workers' compensation insurance for the numerous workers on the work crews to whom Barahona "rented" the workers' compensation insurance. The policy that Barahona purchased and then "rented" out was for an estimated payroll of $91,000, and the insurance company issued the policy for a premium of $15,206. Had a workers' compensation insurance policy been purchased for a payroll totaling $4,388,371, the policy premium would have totaled about $728,030.

"Employers are legally obligated to their employees and the American taxpayer to withhold and pay their fair share of taxes," said Special Agent in Charge Brian Payne of IRS Criminal Investigation. "By shirking this obligation, their employees are cheated out of benefits they've earned and the taxpayer is also undercut. Today's significant sentencing should make it abundantly clear that these actions will not be tolerated."

"This criminal thought he could make quick profits with this criminal scheme," said HSI Jacksonville Assistant Special Agent in Charge K. Jim Phillips. "But instead of enjoying illegal profits, he will now be spending time behind bars with his co-conspirator thanks to HSI special agents and our law enforcement partners."

This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Florida Department of Financial Services. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold B. Corsmeier.