TAMPA - Bail bondsman Freddie Wilson may have been a foolish, careless and even negligent businessman, his lawyer says, but he's no identity thief.
Wilson, 40,owner of Against All Odds Bail Bonds, went on trial Monday on federal charges of theft of government funds, identity theft and obstructing a criminal investigation.
Authorities say Wilson took part in stolen identity tax refund fraud by using a business bank account to launder fraudulently obtained tax refunds.
But Wilson's attorney, Wesley Trombley, told jurors that Wilson had established a legitimate check cashing company that may not have followed proper procedures but was not involved in fraud. Wilson "regretfully rushed into putting together a check cashing business," Trombley said. Wilson "never unlawfully used anyone's name or forged anyone's signature."
The Internal Revenue Service was also negligent, Trombley said, because it sent out refunds without verifying they were legitimate. The IRS, Trombley told jurors, "completely failed in its procedures," sending refunds in response to tax returns with false addresses, false financial information and false marital statuses. All Wilson did was cash checks for apparent identity thieves, he said.
"He merely accepted the checks that came to him through his check cashing business," Trombley said. "The criminals who filed the false tax returns with the IRS are not in this courtroom."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Josie Thomas told jurors Wilson victimized six people in their seventies and eighties. All were retirees and had their identities stolen and names forged on checks cashed by Wilson, Thomas said.
Thomas said a friend of Wilson's, who is in prison for selling crack cocaine, will testify that Wilson was buying identity information for use in tax fraud. Trombley said the witness wasn't friends with Wilson and has a long criminal records and other problems that make him unreliable.
In June 2012, Wilson filed with the state to become a registered check cashing company, and in the subsequent three months, deposited about $320,000 in tax refunds into his business bank account, Thomas said.
Wilson didn't follow any of the required procedures for being a legitimate check casher, Thomas said, and did not pay the required fees. Instead, "The defendant spent every last dollar on himself," she said, doing home repairs, repaying loans, making large financial transactions at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and buying a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro.
Then, after the IRS searched his business and seized several boxes of records, the agency agreed to let Wilson make copies so he could continue operating his business while under investigation, Thomas said. When Wilson retrieved the copies at a copy business, he also took the originals, and is now charged with obstructing a criminal investigation.
Trombley said Wilson eventually returned the boxes of evidence to the IRS.