Testimony and arguments ended late Monday in the trial of a Baton Rouge tax preparer accused of $619,959 in bank-and-tax frauds, but the jury of seven women and five men chose to delay deliberations until Tuesday morning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leetra Harris compared Ronald Wayne Wilkerson, the tax preparer, to magician David Copperfield. She alleged Wilkerson used “a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors” to trick his working-class clients, bank officials and the Internal Revenue Service.
“Mr. Wilkerson knew exactly what he was doing,” Harris said. “It was no mistake.”
She said Wilkerson changed clients’ telephone-tax credits of $40 to $50 to impossible amounts ranging from $1,500 to more than $4,000.
When IRS employees began rejecting those credits, Wilkerson told his employees to boost clients’ deductions for charitable contributions, invent dependents, inflate tax and education credits, and fabricate gambling losses, Harris said.
“It was Ronald Wilkerson alone who caused 635 false tax returns to be filed,” Harris said. “You can’t just make it up as you go along, but that’s what Ronald Wilkerson was doing.”
Todd S. Clemons, a Lake Charles attorney defending Wilkerson, accused prosecutors of “trying to convict him for what other people did.”
Clemons said IRS agents and prosecutors were overzealous in their efforts to send Wilkerson to prison. Clemons said employees of Wilkerson Tax Service committed crimes for which they were granted immunity in return for testimony against their employer.
The defense attorney urged jurors to weigh the government’s case “not with a grain of salt, but a pound of salt.”
“The government, they bought a pig in a poke. In other words, a poke is a bag,” Clemons said.
Prosecutors should have made sure there was something in the bag, Clemons argued.
“They bought the testimony of several witnesses who just are not reliable,” Clemons told jurors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rene I. Salomon countered that the facts of the case and the law itself run against Wilkerson, whose only option remains that of attacking other people involved in the case.
“Fraud dreads examination,” Salomon told jurors.
Salomon said jurors should not believe Clemons’ assertion that Wilkerson’s decision to cease inflation of clients’ telephone-tax credits in February 2007 was proof that the tax preparer simply became aware of mistakes.
Salomon reminded jurors that government evidence showed an undercover IRS agent posed as a tax-return client the next month and received a greatly inflated deduction for charitable contributions.
“This wasn’t a mistake in 2007,” Salomon said. “This was fraud.”
Harris and Salomon told jurors that HSBC Bank lost $500,959 on refund anticipation loans granted to hundreds of Wilkerson’s clients because of false information on their tax returns. The prosecutors also said the IRS lost $119,000.
Clemons disputed the allegation of HSBC’s loss, asserting that the bank never filed a criminal complaint against his client.