Minnesota Tax Return Preparer Sentenced to More Than 10 Years in Prison for Leading a Multimillion Dollar IRS Fraud Scheme and Failing to Appear at Sentencing
Defendant Fled to South Africa After his Conviction
A Minneapolis based tax return preparer was sentenced to serve 121 months in prison today for managing and directing a fraudulent return-preparation business, Primetime Tax Services Inc. (Primetime), announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman.
Kenneth Mwase, who also fraudulently used the name Chatonda Khofi, 54, of St. Paul, Minnesota, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of failure to appear at sentencing.
In addition to the term of imprisonment, Chief U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim also ordered Mwase to serve 3 years of supervised release, following his release from prison.
In April 2014, the defendant was charged in a seventy-count second superseding indictment, along with codefendants Ishmael Kosh, 39, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Amadou Sangaray, 36, of New York, New York, and Francis Saygbay, 43, of Minneapolis, and David Mwangi, 47, of Arlington, Texas, for their involvement with Primetime, a tax preparation business with three storefronts in the Minneapolis area. Together with his co-defendants, Mwase prepared and filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over 2,000 fraudulent individual income tax returns on behalf of customers of Primetime for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. Mwase and his co-defendants also prepared approximately 1,700 fraudulent state income tax returns filed with the state of Minnesota for those years.
In November 2014, Mwase plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the Government and one count of aggravated identity theft. As part of his plea agreement, Mwase admitted overseeing a conspiracy that caused a tax loss of over $2.5 million dollars. Mwase and co-defendants Kosh, Sangaray, and Saygbay established Primetime’s flagship location in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in late 2006. They then prepared tax returns in 2007, 2008, and 2009, for Primetime’s customers, which reported false dependents, fake business income and losses, inflated deductions, inflated credits, and false filing statuses, in order to get their customers inflated refunds. The defendants maintained control over their customers’ IRS refunds by instructing that those refunds be sent directly to Primetime. They then caused their preparation fee to be directly withdrawn from the refund. When a customer came to pick up their refund check or debit card, the defendants sometimes escorted that customer to a check cashing location or ATM and demanded additional cash.
Mwase was scheduled to be sentenced on August 18, 2016, following the two-week trial of co-defendants Kosh and Sangaray, which occurred in September 2015, and the guilty plea of co-defendant Saygbay, in November 2015. However, on August 7, 2016, he fled to South Africa, using a fake identity and a fraudulently-obtained Zimbabwean passport. In April 2017, Mwase was charged with one count of failure to appear for sentencing.
With the assistance of the United States Department of State, INTERPOL, and Zimbabwean and South African authorities, Mwase was arrested in South Africa in May 2018. Over the years, Mwase used multiple fake identities, including passing himself off as Chatonda Khofi, an individual born in Washington, D.C. to diplomats from Malawi. In October 2018, following an extradition request from the United States, Mwase was surrendered to the custody of the United States Marshals Service and returned to Minnesota to face sentencing. On November 16, 2018, Mwase pled guilty to the charge of failing to appear for sentencing. Mwase’s co-conspirators were previously sentenced to prison.
The case was investigated by special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation and deputy marshals of the United States Marshals Service. It was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Thomas W. Flynn and Arthur J. Ewenczyk, as well as former Trial Attorneys Dennis R. Kihm and Ryan R. Raybould, of the Tax Division who prosecuted the case. The Tax Division would like to thank the Minnesota Department of Revenue for their significant work in identifying the tax fraud and identity theft occurring at Primetime.