Facebook Boasts Aid Federal Prosecutors in Tax Fraud Case

590975_95468965.jpgA Florida woman was sentenced to nearly twenty years in prison and ordered to pay more than $3.1 million in restitution after pleading guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. United States v. Wilson, No. 8:12-cr-00552-JSM-TGW, judgment (M.D. Fla., Jul. 16, 2013). The case is also noteworthy here because of the manner in which the defendant publicized her activities. Rather than remaining below the radar, she regularly bragged about “tax fraud” on the social media service Facebook and posted pictures of herself with expensive items. Statements such as these are admissible in court, and undoubtedly provided prosecutors with leverage in the case.

According to the government’s indictment, the defendant, Rashia Wilson, and an alleged co-conspirator filed multiple fraudulent individual income tax returns in April and May 2012. Wilson had allegedly already claimed to be the “queen of IRS tax fraud” in a 2011 Facebook post. Prosecutors further claimed that she purchased a 2013 Audi automobile for about $90,000 and spent $30,000 on a birthday party for her infant daughter. At least one of the boasts she posted to Facebook included a picture of her holding large stacks of cash, which she directly attributed to tax fraud.

Federal prosecutors issued a fifty-seven-count indictment in December 2012, including charges of wire fraud, false claims, theft of government property, conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment also pleaded criminal forfeiture of property acquired through the alleged illegal activities, including nearly $1.2 million. Wilson pleaded guilty to two counts, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The judge sentenced her to 234 months, or nineteen years and six months, in prison, and ordered restitution of $3,147,477, payable to the IRS. A forfeiture judgment ordered the forfeiture of over $2.2 million. The value of property already seized, including the Audi, over $5,000 in cash, and assorted jewelry and other items, would be credited to the total forfeiture amount. Wilson’s history of social media posts reportedly led the judge to remark at her sentencing hearing that he believed she “knew what she was doing was wrong” and “reveled in the fact that it was wrong.”

The state has the burden of proving guilt in a criminal prosecution. Generally, no one may try to prove the truth of a matter in court by introducing an out-of-court statement. This type of statement is known as hearsay, but evidence rules have several important exceptions and exclusions. A “statement by a party opponent,” such as an out-of-court statement by a defendant in a criminal case, is not included in the legal definition of hearsay, and is therefore admissible in court. Prosecutors therefore had no legal obstacle to introducing Wilson’s online statements about tax fraud. Facebook may have even made it easy for them, since it requires users to use their real names.

The U.S. Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant before conducting searches, making arrests, or seizing property. The government must respect this right, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, at all times. In order to ensure their rights are secure, defendants in criminal cases should seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of west Texas defendants in criminal cases for more than twenty years. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation regarding your case.

Web Resources:

United States v. Wilson, et al (PACER registration required), Cause No. 8:12-cr-00552-JSM-TGW, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida
More Blog Posts:

SEC Uses Facebook to Identify Insider Trading Suspect’s Alleged Source, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 26, 2013
New Technology Means Electronic Communications Increasingly Monitored in Texas, Nationwide, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 22, 2012
Gangs Like the Bloods and Crips are Expanding Into White Collar Cyber Crime, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 7, 2011
Photo credit: Avolore on stock.xchng.