Fraud, times three
Feds reveal a string of local investigations
Stories of local middle-aged and elderly folks getting ripped off by scammers have become fairly common of late. However, in the last month the tables seem to have turned, with five Chicoans aged 52 to 73 allegedly being perpetrators in three major fraud cases.
Two of the cases involve people who say they believe the federal government has no right to tax them. The latest one involves a couple accused of falsely filing for and receiving a nearly $1 million tax refund.
On July 26, Randy Barker, 59, and his wife, Tamara Barker, 52, were indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government, making false, fictitious or fraudulent claims, and engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property. If convicted they face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Barkers do not think the Constitution gives the federal government authority to demand they pay taxes, explained Lauren Harwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
“They’re true believers,” she said. “They feel they are sovereign citizens and that federal tax laws are illegal.”
The Barkers are charged with filing a fraudulent 2008 tax return in which they requested a refund of $987,900. According to the indictment, the return falsely claimed $1.48 million in interest income and stated that virtually the entire amount was subject to withholding taxes.
They received a tax-return check from the IRS that they deposited into a Wells Fargo Bank account in early 2009. According to court documents, within weeks they began putting the refund to personal use: They wrote a $495,000 check to purchase a house, one for $81,000 to furnish that house, and another for $28,000 to purchase a Toyota Tacoma truck. Tamara Barker also issued $100,000 checks to herself and her husband.
Randy Barker was featured and photographed in a July 21 Chico Enterprise-Record story about his seasonal job as a CalFire tower lookout at Sawmill Peak. According to public records, he was paid $7,597 in 2008.
Court documents say Randy Barker claims not to live in the United States, but rather “upon the land mass of California.” He similarly does not use the “U.S. Postal Service federal Zip Code whatsoever” and “is not in fact a United States citizen.”
The Barkers’ case is being investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation. The Barkers currently are free on $50,000 bail each, and their next court date is set for Aug. 6. Neither the couple nor their lawyer could be reached for comment by press time.
A week before the Barker’s indictment another Chico couple pleaded guilty to a securities fraud scheme that that cost more than 250 investors a total of $18.4 million. According to a Department of Justice press release, Barbara Eberle, 65, and Robert Eberle, 73, pleaded guilty on July 20. They reportedly ran their scam from 2001 to 2006 as owners of Lexus Financial, located in the Philadelphia Square business complex in north Chico.
The operation involved reselling to third parties life-insurance policies purchased from elderly or ill people. The Eberles resold the policies with risk-free guarantees and promises of high rates of return, which according to state and federal insurance watchdogs is not true. Further, the Eberles allegedly were not properly licensed.
They were indicted in 2007 and are now free on a $500,000 unsecured bond each. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 2 by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr.
The third case came up a week before the Eberles’ guilty pleas, when another Chicoan who doesn’t believe in federal tax laws was arraigned. (See “The flower tax,” CN&R Newslines, July 19.)
On July 16, James Molen, 68, was indicted on charges of failing to withhold federal income tax from employees at the Touch of Class florist shop on The Esplanade. According to a Department of Justice press release, he was released on $100,000 bond and his next court date is Aug. 10. Molen and his wife, Sandra, co-owned the shop, which closed last year after a 35-year run. Sandra Molen was also under investigation but died this year, on Valentine’s Day.