GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Callista Suzena Chiwocha, of Okemos, Michigan was sentenced in U.S. District Court to ten years in prison for conspiring to defraud the government by filing false tax returns, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge. The ten-year prison sentence imposed by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker was the maximum penalty available. Callista Chiwocha was also ordered to pay full restitution in the amount of $3,627,401.16 to the Internal Revenue Service. Callista Chiwocha, her husband, Tapera Albert Chiwocha, Sr., and their company, Human Services Associates, LLC pled guilty in March 2017. Tapera Albert Chiwocha, Sr. passed away in July 2017 pending sentencing. The Court also ordered Human Services Associates, LLC, which Callista Chiwocha attempted to dissolve while the federal investigation was pending, to pay full restitution.
Over approximately ten months during 2011, Callista Chiwocha, age 64, and her husband, Tapera Albert Chiwocha, Sr., age 75, requested over $4.5 million in federal tax refunds from the United States Treasury by causing 3,228 false tax returns to be filed on behalf of others with the Internal Revenue Service. The Chiwochas and those who worked for them at Human Services Associates, LLC tricked individuals into providing their personal identification information after being promised “free stimulus money.” The tax returns typically contained false reporting of undocumented income and abusive use of the earned income credit. The Chiwochas’ scam preyed on the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of the district. The Chiwochas created Human Services Associates, LLC to facilitate and conceal their criminal activities. Before perpetrating the fraud, Callista Chiwocha had prior work experience in the banking industry and the tax return preparation industry.
Acting U.S. Attorney Birge commented: “When you steal from the U.S. Treasury, you steal from your neighbor. The Chiwochas and Human Services Associates, LLC pillaged the U.S. Treasury for a period of ten months in 2011 and reaped an enormous amount of illegitimate refund money – over $3.6 million – in the process. Their crime was brazen and outrageous and is the very type of crime that breeds cynicism about our tax system, which relies upon honest and voluntary compliance. The statutory maximum sentence the U.S. District Court imposed on Ms. Chiwocha should send a stern message to the public that tax refund fraud will not be tolerated in this District.”
When issuing the sentence, Chief U.S. District Judge Jonker stated: “This may have been Ms. Chiwocha’s first experience breaking the law, but she did it in a big way.” Jonker also acknowledged Callista Chiwocha’s prior work experience in the banking and tax return preparation industries and noted that the knowledge she gained from this work experience undoubtedly helped her facilitate the scheme. Callista Chiwocha obtained an undergraduate business degree in accounting from the University of Michigan in 1978. Investigative records show that shortly before starting the tax fraud scheme, the Chiwochas were delinquent on their home mortgage payments and had been frequenting casinos.
Complaints by local citizens prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation to open an investigation in 2011, which began with the execution of search warrants at the Chiwochas’ home and places of business. In 2011, investigators also seized the contents of over twenty bank accounts traced to the scheme, additional cash, and four vehicles that the Chiwochas and their associates had purchased with illegitimate tax refund money. The seizures in 2011 led to the recovery of over $1.5 million in fraud proceeds through civil forfeiture proceedings. In the near future, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be processing paperwork to restore the recovered fraud proceeds to the U.S. Treasury.
Callista Chiwocha’s and Human Services Associates, LLC’s sentencings were the culmination of six years’ worth of work by investigators and prosecutors. In earlier prosecutions, other Chiwocha-related family members pled guilty to similar tax offenses: daughter Takabvako Chiwocha-Crowell pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 42 months’ incarceration; daughter Tsiidzoyedu Callista Chiwocha pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to one year and one day of incarceration; grandson Qasim Ibn-Ishaq Verser pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 36 months’ incarceration; grandson Imran Dawood Ibn-Abdurrahim pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 54 months’ incarceration; and, granddaughter Ruqayya Aida Abdul-Hakim pled guilty to filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 72 months’ incarceration. The Chiwochas’ tax refund fraud scheme was an extended family enterprise.
IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Many Muriel stated: “This case demonstrates IRS-CI’s ability to find individuals who cheat the Internal Revenue Service. In this particularly disturbing case, the defendant preyed on the most vulnerable citizens and filed false tax returns using their information. Because of her greed, Calista Suzena Chiwocha scammed the public and the IRS, all in efforts to enrich herself. This sentencing demonstrates the IRS’s and the U.S. Government’s commitment to bring to justice those who commit these and other egregious crimes.”
David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI said, “During the majority of 2011, Human Services Associates, LLC and the Chiwochas stole tax refund money from the U.S. Treasury, eroding trust in the tax system. Today’s maximum sentence sends a clear message to the public that federal law enforcement at all levels will continue to work to hold those defrauding the U.S. government accountable for their criminal acts.”
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel S. Fauson and Michael A. MacDonald.