Owner of bogus Georgia charities charged with tax evasion | USAO-MA

BOSTON — The owner of several bogus charities in Georgia has been charged and has agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns.

Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Georgia, was charged with two counts of filing false tax returns. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled by the court.

According to court documents, Hightower ran two nonprofit organizations that were supposed to serve underprivileged children in the Atlanta, Georgia area. From around 2010 to 2015, Hightower received over $650,000 in apparent donations from a Boston bank – where Palestine Ace, the wife of Hightower’s family member Jonathan Ace, worked. In reality, the sums Hightower was receiving in the form of alleged donations were the product of a separate embezzlement scheme carried out by Palestine and Jonathan Ace. As a condition of receiving these “donations”, Hightower agreed to return approximately 25% to Palestine and Jonathan Ace as a secret bribe.

Rather than use the funds for charitable purposes, Hightower spent the majority on personal expenses unrelated to charity. For the 2013 and 2014 tax years, Hightower filed false personal and organizational tax returns in connection with the alleged donations. Each year, Hightower reported significant amounts of non-existent and/or inflated business expenses, which ultimately reduced his personal tax liability.

In 2018, Palestine and Jonathan Ace were found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to one and two years in prison respectively.

The arraignment law provides for a sentence of up to three years in prison, one year of probation and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge and are based on US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Ramsey E. Covington, Acting Special Agent for Criminal Investigations for the Internal Revenue Service in Boston, made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordi de Llano, deputy head of Lelling’s securities, finance and cyberfraud unit, is prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.