A Canoga Park man who worked with a tax preparer in a large stolen-identity and tax-refund fraud scheme was sentenced Monday to four years and four months in federal prison, according to officials.
U.S.District Judge Dale S. Fischer sentenced Arthur Bakunts, 40, and ordered Bakunts to pay a total of $741,259 in restitution.
Bakunts pleaded guilty in November to one count of wire fraud and one count of illegally possessing the means of identification of another person.
The case against Bakunts stemmed, in part, from documents – including identity profiles, tax refund checks and other trappings of identity theft – found in his car when he was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Glendale in 2014.
Subsequent investigation revealed that Bakunts was working with Ashrf Mohammed Aly, the former owner of Speedy Tax Service in West Covina, who used the stolen identity information to prepare fraudulent federal and state income tax returns in the names of the identity theft victims, which Bakunts then filed.
The fraudulent tax returns led to tax authorities issuing refund checks – $612,259 from the U.S. Treasury and $129,000 from the state of California.
In addition to these substantial losses, prosecutors noted that Bakunts’ crimes caused other significant harms, “including compromised financial accounts and liabilities incurred in the identity theft victims’ names, victims’ loss of the time needed to address these financial problems and restore credit, and the anxiety and sense of violation that identity theft causes.”
Bakunts admitted in his plea agreement that approximately 341 fraudulent tax returns had been filed as part of the criminal scheme. Judge Fischer pointed to the scope of the scheme when imposing the sentence against Bakunts Monday, according to officials.
During the period of supervised release, Bakunts will be required to do 20 hours of community service each week unless he is otherwise gainfully employed, officials said.
Aly pleaded guilty in December to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Fischer on April 9.