A Schenectady woman was sentenced Tuesday to more than three years in prison for a check-writing and tax-return scam that netted more than $87,000 from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Prosecutors argued for a harsher sentence, saying that she has shown no intention of following the law, while her defense argued for a lighter sentence, saying her scam wasn’t sophisticated and didn’t hurt anyone.
In U.S. District Court in Albany on Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe sentenced Patricia Alfieri to 41 months in prison. She had pleaded guilty in December to mail fraud and filing a false return.
The scam involved the 53-year-old woman sending the IRS more than $3.6 million in bogus checks, then receiving “overpayment” checks from the agency before the IRS realized her checks were worthless, according to paperwork filed in court.
In all, she admitted to mailing 65 bogus checks to the IRS while she was a state Department of Taxation and Finance employee. She also admitted to over-reporting her federal income tax withholding and fabricating home mortgage interest and real estate tax payments.
She was ordered to pay $47,484 in restitution, which represents back taxes owed and the portion of the overpayments that wasn’t recovered. A direct deposit of $69,622 was recovered before Alfieri could gain access to it.
Alfieri was represented in court by assistant federal public defender Paul Evangelista. In a sentencing memorandum, he argued for a 24-month prison term. He wrote that when Alfieri began the scheme she got a check for $371. Then, with a delay in collection efforts on previous tax bills, “it became easier and easier to keep sending checks.”
“Ms. Alfieri did keep sending checks,” Evangelista wrote. “Inevitably, the IRS and authorities caught up with Ms. Alfieri and she has been charged for frauds she has committed.”
The scheme took place from April 2008 to March 2013, authorities have said.
She was first interviewed by agents in September 2011 and told them she had fallen on hard times and gone through a difficult divorce.
“She began sending fraudulent checks to pay off her debt to the IRS,” Evangelista wrote. “When she started receiving overpayment refunds, she continued to send checks.”
He argued her crimes were aimed at the IRS, not individuals, and that there was nothing sophisticated about her fraud.
Prosecutors asked for a 46-month prison sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Coffman noted in his memorandum that even after federal agents spoke with her in September 2011, she sent the IRS another $400,000 in bogus checks. He also noted that she engaged in new state and federal offenses after her May 2013 arrest, but did not detail those offenses.
She also fled from pretrial supervision as her sentencing approached, he wrote.
“The defendant’s actions demonstrate she has no intention of complying with the law,” Coffman wrote, “that she is a continuing danger to the public, and that incarceration is the only effective means of deterrence in this case.”
The case was investigated by special agents of the Internal Revenue Service and prosecuted by Coffman.