"It's easy, judge, very easy to make fun of my client," said defense attorney Mark O'Brien, who said a picture of Rashia Wilson wearing a blonde wig and hoisting wads of cash "is a result of her mental illness." TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT
TAMPA - When Rashia Wilson taunted authorities on Facebook that she was the "queen" of tax refund fraud and that authorities would never catch her, she was in the grips of mental illness, her lawyer told a judge Tuesday.
"It's easy, judge, very easy to make fun of my client," said defense attorney Mark O'Brien, who said a widely publicized picture of Wilson wearing a blonde wig and hoisting wads of cash "is a result of her mental illness."
"No one's making fun of his client," responded Assistant U.S. Attorney Mandy Riedel. People are "pointing out the facts that she put into the media." What's easy, the prosecutor said, is "to get a job and live within your means."
O'Brien implored U.S. District Judge James Moody to sentence Wilson to 10 to 15 years in prison, and not a longer sentence as called for under federal guidelines.
But Moody was unmoved. "She knew what she was doing was wrong," he said. "She reveled in the fact that she was doing wrong."
With that, the judge sentenced Wilson to 21 years in federal prison on tax fraud and weapons charges, the highest sentence for any defendant yet in the stolen identity tax refund fraud outbreak that has overtaken the Tampa area in the last three years.
According to the prosecution, Wilson used part of the millions she stole from federal taxpayers to throw a $30,000 birthday party for her one-year-old daughter. She also paid cash for a $90,000 car, telling the salesperson she didn't care what kind of car she bought, as long as it was the most expensive one on the lot, Riedel said.
On Tuesday, the single mother of three asked if she could hug her young children who were in court to see her sentenced. But U.S. Marshals would not allow it, and so the youngsters were taken weeping from the courtroom, crying out for their mother as Wilson collapsed in tears before being led away.
It was a long way from the days when Wilson saw herself as on top of the world, invincible.
"YES I'M RASHIA THE QUEEN OF IRS TAX FRAUD," one of her punctuation-challenged Facebook postings screamed. "THE SAME ONE WHO PUT EVERYBODY ON AND ERRYBODY FORGET WHERE THEY COME FROM
"IMA NEED A BIHH TO PLZZZZZ KNOW THEY PLACE U SAY YA R BETTER THAN ME BUT I BEG TO DIFFER MY WHOLE NAME IS PAID IM'A MILLION AIRE FOR THE RECORD SO IF U THINK INDICTING ME WILL B EASY IT WON'T I PROMISE U!"
And, she added, "TO DA RAT WHO WENT N TOLD AS IF 1ST LADY DON'T HAVE DA TPD UNDER HER SPELL I RUN TAMPA RIGHT BOUT NOW ANY 1 OF U HOES CAN ALL GET TURNED N WIT ME N I BET I WONNT DO NO TIME DUMB BITCHS."
On Tuesday, Wilson was contrite and apologetic. "Your honor, it is with sincere regret and my deepest apology that I come before you today," she told the judge, reading from a letter. "My actions have caused great pain and humiliation for myself, loved ones and professional clientele.
"Please don't take me away from my children by sending me to prison for a long time," she said.
"That would be something you should have considered" at the time of the crime, the judge responded, "that you didn't want to be taken away from your children."
"Yes, sir," Wilson said.
The defense presented a psychological expert who testified that Wilson suffers from bipolar disorder and other issues related to her birth to a cocaine-addicted mother and her own substance abuse. Valerie McClain testified that she thinks Wilson was in the throes of a manic episode when she posted on Facebook.
O'Brien said the irrational bravado in the Facebook posts proves Wilson was unbalanced at the time. Wilson's mental illness "does not excuse her behavior, but my hope is it mitigates her behavior," the defense lawyer added.
O'Brien said he hopes that while Wilson is in prison, the "IRS will figure out a way to prevent this from happening in the future so someone with a sixth-grade education can't defraud them so easily."
Moody noted that Wilson committed the fraud while collecting government assistance for herself and her children.
O'Brien conceded that was "egregious" and "offensive," and he said, "I can't run away from that fact, and neither can my client."
Riedel said Wilson is blaming the IRS, her parents and her bipolar disorder, but it was she who stole "actual money from every single American who pays into the tax system," as well as the thousands of people whose stolen identities she used.
Riedel asked for a 19-year sentence, added to the 18-month sentence Wilson received for the weapons offense. That, the prosecutor said, would reflect "the scope of her harm" and "the role that she chose for herself as being a leader in tax fraud in Tampa."
While investigators later determined Wilson stole between $7 million and $20 million from federal taxpayers, because of the terms of her plea agreement, Moody sentenced her based on an earlier calculation that she had stolen $3.1 million.
Moody ordered Wilson pay that amount in restitution jointly with her boyfriend, Maurice Larry, who is scheduled to be sentenced in September.