You would have to be living under a rock if you’re not aware of the pervasive IRS impersonation phone scams going around. These scammers prey on the least-informed, most vulnerable people in society, convincing them that the IRS is on the brink of throwing them into prison for unpaid taxes when, in many cases, no taxes are owed. Now at least one of the masterminds behind this, Sahil Patel (36), is going to be put away for 14 years. Patel was sentenced a couple days ago in a U.S. District Court in New York for conspiring to extort, to impersonate government officials, and to commit wire fraud.
The government considers Patel one of the ringleaders in a scam that duped nearly 4,000 people out of a combined $20 million over the past two years. However, this criminal group is obviously run by more than just Patel as the phone calls have not stopped since his conviction.
Maybe 14 years seems like a long time to you for a crime that doesn’t involve taking a life, but this is what the district judge had to say about it:
The nature of this crime robbed people of their identities and their money in a way that causes people to fee that they have been almost destroyed.
He definitely wanted to “ensure adequate deterrence.” Plus I don’t think it helped that Patel came across as an “unfriendly” witness. He reportedly made some sexist comments about the women he hired to do the dirty work and how they were ignorant and gullible. I know that 14 years seems like a heavy penalty, and you can’t really expect a higher level of severity, but I wonder if this will really deter the co-conspirators who appear to be keeping the scheme operational. The rewards are so incredibly high for them and, at this point at least, the risks seem to be just low enough.
We can increase the risk by finding more of these guys, and I think the IRS, in cooperation with law enforcement, is doing the best they can. We can reduce the reward by informing the public — and this is where I think they can improve. I started this article by saying that one would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of these phone scams, but I don’t know if that is true. As a tax attorney, I hear about this kind of thing all the time because I am dialed into tax news and events. But is the average taxpayer getting the message? I think IRS public service messages are focused on tax professionals. Maybe there should be a broader kind of outreach through TV and radio. I suppose there is a reason why they haven’t gone there; maybe they don’t want to freak everyone out.