Tampa, Florida – United States District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich has sentenced Joseph Bassler (62, St. Petersburg) to three years and one month in federal prison for money laundering and mail fraud. As part of his sentence, the court also entered a money judgment in the amount of $77,224, the proceeds of the scheme. Bassler had pleaded guilty on June 6, 2017.
According to court documents, Bassler, a licensed tax preparer, held himself out as a professional accountant who could assist companies affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in filing business economic loss claims. As part of his scheme, Bassler prepared and submitted fraudulently inflated claims falsely alleging lost income on behalf of his clients. As payment for his services, he accepted a portion of the recovery money for the loss claims he had prepared. In total, Bassler submitted 62 claims, three of which were paid. For the three claims that were paid, Bassler and his clients received over $600,000 more than they were entitled to from the compensation fund. The remaining claims were denied when Bassler’s fraudulent scheme was discovered.
“When unprincipled fraudsters file false claims against businesses they frustrate the legal system and disrupt the natural flow of our economy,” stated Special Agent in Charge Mary Hammond of IRS Criminal Investigation. “IRS-CI is fiercely committed to defending the integrity of our nation's tax system, and a significant aspect of that duty is to work with our fellow law enforcement partners to help maintain equity in the marketplace.”
“It is reprehensible to exploit any disaster for personal gain,” said Eric W. Sporre, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division. “It is our duty to protect the relief funds set aside for economic disasters such as the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and ensure the money goes to those deserving of assistance.”
This case was investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation and the FBI. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Rachel K. Jones.
Department of Justice
Office of the U.S. Attorney
Middle District of Florida