12 workers from Myrtle Beach area construction companies plead guilty in historic S.C. tax case

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 7:56 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 12:16 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – A dozen workers from seven construction-related companies in the Myrtle Beach area have pleaded guilty to tax and immigration charges in one of the largest IRS investigations in the history of South Carolina, authorities said.

The pleas were announced Tuesday morning during a press briefing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement in Myrtle Beach.

Authorities said the pleas were the first resulting from a multi-year undercover investigation in the Myrtle Beach area and throughout the South Carolina coast by the IRS and Homeland Security Investigations.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the operation targeted those in the construction industry who used unlicensed check cashers to facilitate under-the-table cash payments to employees, many of whom were illegal aliens.

The check cashiers also allegedly provided certificates of insurance falsely stating that the employees were covered under workers compensation insurance. The under-the-table payments, authorities said, defrauded the United States out of applicable employment taxes on the employees.

According to the release, each of the 12 defendants pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one misdemeanor count of unlawful employment to aliens.

“Those who steal from the Government, and by extension the American taxpayers, will not find refuge in South Carolina,” said Acting United States Attorney M. Rhett DeHart. “By evading millions of dollars in taxes and falsely claiming their workers had insurance, these defendants made it harder for honest business owners to compete in the construction industry along South Carolina’s coast and they left their workers exposed to injury without insurance. I want to thank the IRS and HSI for their tireless efforts, as well as our local partners who assisted during this operation. We will continue to prosecute businesses and individuals who try to get ahead by breaking the law.”

The defendants who have pleaded guilty in the operation so far are:

Daniel Lavoie Construction Services

  • Daniel A. Lavoie, 49, of Conway
  • Enrique R. Reyes, 48, of Conway

Duran Masonry

  • Walter A. Duran, 45, of Myrtle Beach
  • Lisa Caulley Sellers, 57, of Myrtle Beach

Extreme Siding

  • Ming Xue Nan, 52, of Myrtle Beach
  • Katherine L. Welker, 39, of Myrtle Beach

Master Homes Calabash

  • Marylany Hardman Levino, 36, of Myrtle Beach
  • Josafa P. Neto, 43, of Myrtle Beach

Metro Concrete Finishers

  • Saul Prieto, 56, of Myrtle Beach
  • Martha E. Zarate, a/k/a Martha E. Prieto, 54, of Myrtle Beach

Master Homes Design Center

  • Marcos Caetano De Almeida, 45, of Myrtle Beach

Paint By Numbers

  • Johanna A. Carpio, 38, of Myrtle Beach

Authorities allege $15 million in checks were cashed by the defendants, resulting in millions of dollars of losses to the federal government. At least tens of millions of dollars of tax losses have occurred throughout the South Carolina cost because of similar schemes, the release stated.

Evidence presented to the court showed that beginning around late 2018, IRS and HSI began jointly investigating the practice of illegal check cashing within the construction industry in the Myrtle Beach area and in other regions along the South Carolina coast.

Authorities specifically looked at construction companies that would use check cashers so that they could hire unauthorized aliens and avoid paying employment taxes on their workers, the release stated.

To facilitate the scheme, authorities said, a member of the construction company would meet with an unlicensed check casher in places like parking lots for retail stores or coffee shops.

According to the release, the construction company would then give the check casher a business check in a certain amount made out to a company the check casher had created. The check casher would reportedly give the construction company representative cash that would be used to pay the employees.

In exchange for their services, the check casher held back a fee of approximately 3%, authorities said.

“IRS Criminal Investigation realizes the detrimental consequences of employment tax evasion. These defendants mistakenly believed they could disregard their tax obligations and gain a competitive advantage while doing so,” said Mona Passmore, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “They underestimated our vigorous pursuit of justice and dedication to closing the tax gap. We will continue to hold criminals accountable for their role in these schemes.”

Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States, and six months in federal prison for unlawful employment of aliens.

They also face fines of up to $250,000 and $3,000 for each unauthorized alien, and three years of supervision to follow the term of imprisonment. Each defendant has agreed to make restitution to the IRS, for a total restitution amount of just under $3 million.

Chief United States District Judge R. Bryan Harwell has accepted each of the guilty pleas and will sentence the defendants after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the United States Probation Office.

The case was investigated by IRS and HSI, with assistance from the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

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