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Tampa Car Salesman Indicted for Tax Fraud & Theft of Government Property

Russell B. Simmon Jr., operator of Simmons Auto Sales on 34th Street in Tampa was indicted on fraud charges this week, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa. The used car dealer is accused of accepting fraudulent tax refund checks as payment by customers and filing his own false tax returns. Authorities claim his scheme netted $1.17 million.

Simmons faces charges of tax fraud, identity theft, wire fraud, theft of government property and filing false returns. Law enforcement alleges Simmons accepted federal tax refund checks that he knew were obtained fraudulently "with a much higher value than the price of the vehicles he sold, keeping the difference for himself."

Simmons was first arrested in late 2011 after police searched his business and found 134 Turbo Tax cards, two Jaguars, a Bentley and $38,000 in cash and money orders. He was charged, at the time, with grand theft and identity theft, not tax fraud.

At the same time the U.S. Attorney announced Simmons' indictment, the office also announced that Riverview resident Arswaya Ralph pleaded guilty in Tampa federal court to filing a false income tax claim and identity theft. She has not yet been sentenced.

According to her plea agreement, Ralph filed 65 fraudulent tax returns with a value of $467,000 in 2010. Law enforcement authorities said they found $27,000 in Ralph's bedroom closet when they searched her home.

Both Simmons' and Ralph's cases resulted from a yearlong campaign by local and federal law enforcement to combat fraudulent income tax returns. The government calls the effort "Operation Rainmaker" and claims that it has intercepted at least 10,000 fraudulent returns worth more than $100 million.

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