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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Man convicted of tax fraud wants Bentley, jewelry back

TAMPA — Russell Simmons wants his Bentley back.

And his 18-carat gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day Date watch with a diamond dial.

And the 14-carat gold necklace with an “RS” pendant with 703 diamonds.

And all the cash and the rest of the jewelry.

He wants it all back.

Simmons once was a symbol of Tampa's wave of tax refund fraud, and a source of frustration for local authorities who told his story on Capitol Hill - the man who was living the high life after stealing millions from U.S. taxpayers.

He was ultimately prosecuted and sentenced last year to 15 years in federal prison. The sentence was later reduced to 12 1/2 years because of Simmons' cooperation in another case; Simmons testified last May against a drug dealer who received life on his federal conviction. Simmons is asking the court to reduce his sentence further because he doesn't think he got enough credit for the help he gave in the drug dealer's case.

Simmons, 43, is serving his sentence at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County.

Simmons, who owned a car dealership, tried to steal $8.9 million by filing more than 600 fraudulent tax returns in 2011, authorities say. The IRS rejected more than $5.5 million worth of refunds but approved $3.4 million.

Other refunds were stopped, either by TurboTax or through other means. In the end, according to the IRS and Secret Service, Simmons obtained $1.8 million in fraudulent refunds.

In an interview with The Tampa Tribune and News Channel 8 last year, Simmons said he paid $13,000 for the diamond pendant with his initials. He claimed most of the money he stole went to help his business, but he also admitted buying jewelry and expensive cars and clothes.

Simmons said then that it was too easy to steal people's personal information and file fraudulent tax returns.

As part of his plea agreement, Simmons agreed to give up the Bentley, jewelry, $25,000 in cash and more than $100,000 on debit cards.

Simmons also specifically agreed to forfeit:

- A 14-carat gold double Cuban link chrome chain

- A 14-carat gold men's ring with 110 diamonds

- A 14-carat gold men's bracelet with 2,420 round diamonds

- A 14-carat gold men's square ring

- A KC stainless steel men's watch with 57 diamonds

- A KC stainless steel men's watch with 33 diamonds

Now Simmons says all the items and cash were illegally seized, and he wants them back. He filed a motion in federal court describing himself as “an aggrieved person” and asking the judge who sentenced him to order the government to return the cash, jewelry and cars.

The prosecution, however, says in a court filing that Simmons' isn't entitled to have the items returned because they were lawfully forfeited as part of his plea agreement.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor's reaction to Simmons wanting his Bentley back: "It would be hard to drive around the prison yard."

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Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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