St. Charles mother/daughter plead guilty to illegal tax scheme

Published 3:30 pm Monday, June 16, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

NEW ORLEANS — A mother-daughter team from St. Charles Parish pleaded guilty to an illegal tax scheme that netted close $2 million in fraudulent tax refunds, the older doing so just hours before her trial was set to begin this week.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. said Cathy Ross Vinnett, 46, of Destrehan entered the plea to conspiracy to defraud the United States and, specifically, the Internal Revenue Service, Monday morning, the day her trial was to begin.

Vinnett’s daughter, Lashanda Ruth Vinnett, 29, also of Destrehan, pleaded guilty to the same charge Friday.

In 2008, Cathy and Lashanda Vinnett created River Parish Tax Professionals for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns, a release from Polite’s office said.

“The Vinnetts, through River Parish, filed approximately 310 tax returns, which falsely claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the listing of false dependents resulting in approximately $1.845 million in fraudulent tax refunds,” Polite said. “Cathy Vinnett and Lashanda Vinnett utilized recruiters to locate potential clients. These recruiters advised potential clients that the federal government was giving out stimulus money and instructed the individuals to visit River Parish in order to obtain their money.”

The Vinnetts would interview clients at their LaPlace office to obtain their personal information including name, address and social security number, which was used to file false tax returns.

“The clients had no knowledge that the Vinnetts were filing false returns in their names,” Polite said. “The Vinnetts specifically attempted to conceal and shield Cathy’s identity with the IRS, knowing that the IRS had previously suspended Cathy’s Electronic Filing Identification Number as a result of another fraudulent tax scheme involving D&C Tax Service.

“Additionally, in May 2009, Cathy Vinnett knowingly made material false statements to IRS federal agents when she claimed she had no knowledge about false tax returns being prepared at River Parish, she did not own a tax business and that her brother was the owner of River Parish.”

U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle is scheduled to sentence Cathy Vinnett on Oct. 1 and Lashanda Vinnett on Sept. 17. The Vinnetts face a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, restitution and a $250,000 fine.

Gabriel Grchan, special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, said the guilty pleas entered represent a great victory for all U.S. taxpayers.

“A tax stimulus, such as the First Time Homebuyer’s Credit, is meant to strengthen the country’s economy,” Grchan said. “When these types of programs are exploited by fraud, it cannot be tolerated. IRS – CI will continue working to bring to justice those individuals who scheme and conspire to benefit themselves at the expense of other citizens and the government.”

Special agents from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division investigated the case, and Assistant U. S. Attorneys Brian M. Klebba and Matthew Payne handled the prosecution.