Feds follow up on last week’s investigation
After The Examiner revealed that hundreds of elderly and disabled Southeast Texans were targeted in a scam to bilk needy citizens with promises of a federal stimulus check, a search warrant was executed at the Port Arthur home of one of the suspected perpetrators.
In the Aug. 16 article “Predator’s lair,” a tangled web of deception spun by a group operating under the name Syam Tax Services and a host of pseudonyms was exposed. The victims thought they were claiming a portion of federal stimulus funds set aside to assist low-income Social Security recipients, when in fact no such provision exists. In reality, bogus tax return claims were filed with the IRS in the names of the victims without their knowledge or consent. Half of the ill-gotten proceeds were sent to the victims’ bank account and half forwarded to a third party. Ultimately unemployed recipients learned tax returns were filed on their behalf claiming work income for the previous year, and victims were in debt to the IRS for the full refund.
The victims, Social Security and SSI recipients, gave their driver’s license, Social Security number and banking information to Myra Jackson Jones of Houston and Diana Broussard of Port Arthur, who then sent the information to Syam’s headquarters in Houston and Dallas and its owner, Shannon Mays.
Jones told The Examiner she no longer participates in the scheme, stating she felt the company she was working for was up to no good.
“That’s why I left it alone,” she said, claiming she quit referring clients to Syam at the beginning of July.
Broussard was still actively telling clients she would sign them up for the “stimulus rebate” Aug. 15 when Port Arthur Police were dispatched to her home on a report that Broussard was filing fraudulent tax returns for clients who sought her service to claim a Social Security stimulus refund. Broussard refused a request for an interview with the newspaper at that time.
Syam owner Shannon Mays spoke to The Examiner outside his Dallas office stating that his company was a legitimate tax preparation service and that if fraudulent activity was occurring, it wasn’t with his consent or knowledge.
“No one has filed a complaint with me,” he said. But Mays did admit to speaking with an officer from the Port Arthur Police Department, who had contacted him about allegations of improperly using someone’s identification.
“Those women (Broussard and Jones) aren’t my employees; they just refer people to me, like anyone can. They get a $50 referral fee. ... I run an honest business.”
Mays, however, refused to allow reporters into “honest business” offices in Dallas and Houston.
After “Predator’s lair” circulated throughout Southeast Texas, The Examiner was inundated by calls from citizens who were also victims of the stimulus/tax refund scam.
Brenda Ardoin in Orange said she hadn’t filed tax returns in over 20 years, and was happy for the blessing she had hoped to receive in the form of a stimulus allotment.
“She said she’s been doing this for a long time,” Ardoin said, adding that Broussard never advised her of any intention to file a tax return with the IRS. “I can’t afford to pay all this money back. I was just happy because we needed this extra ($805). I wasn’t thinking about someone trying to scam us. Now, she won’t even answer her phone”
The same sentiments were shared by Willie Simien of Port Arthur, Detty McCarver of Port Arthur, Anthony Chargois of Beaumont and many others who called The Examiner looking for direction as to what to do next.
Other offices in Southeast Texas were receiving calls, too — the Better Business Bureau, the IRS, the Justice Department, FBI, Port Arthur and Groves police departments, and others all got calls from victims saying they were scammed by Syam.
Victim statements and investigators’ sleuthing led to a federal search warrant issued by Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin for the home of Diana Broussard on Wednesday, Aug. 21. The warrant was executed by multiple agencies including local police departments, the FBI and SWAT. Investigators were tasked with securing, among other things, “documents and information associated with Diana Broussard and Syam Investments ... or any other subsidiary or companion of Syam Inc., and their agents or employees.” Particular items to be seized at Broussard’s Waco Street address were tax forms, business faxes and contracts, bank statements, cell phones and other mobile devices, appointment books, client account ledgers, computer hard drives, jump drives and more.
In requesting the warrant, federal agent Alton Baise, a Task Force Officer specializing in financial crime investigations, stated, “There is probable cause to believe that numerous violations of wire fraud have been committed by Diana Broussard and others.” In executing the search warrant, multiple boxes, bags and containers of evidence were hauled from the home. And although the investigators couldn’t comment on any specifics of the open investigation, it was noted by one that, “The number of (victims) involved in this is going to be extensive.”
The case is being investigated by the FBI, the Port Arthur Police Department, IRS, and a task force of participating agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Baylor Wortham.
Wortham said his office is pursuing the case as a service to those in the community who say they were duped by wolves in sheep’s clothing.
“We owe it to the people of Port Arthur and Southeast Texas, who were likely taken advantage of,” he said. “We will do everything we can to see the perpetrators of crimes against our citizens get justice for their actions.”
Wortham was unable to elaborate on what evidence has been collected but said, “We’ve still got more to do in this case, and we’re likely going to be sorting out evidence for some time.”
People who feel they have been victimized can reach the Port Arthur Police Department at (409) 983-8623.