John Drago Structured Transactions to Assist Customers in Evading Taxes and Operated an Off-the-Books Payroll
Earlier today, in federal court in Central Islip, John Drago, the former owner/operator of several check cashing businesses on Long Island, pleaded guilty to illegally structuring financial transactions and payroll tax evasion. The proceeding took place before United States District Judge Gary R. Brown. When sentenced, Drago faces up to 10 years in prison, has agreed to forfeit approximately $253,000 and to pay restitution of approximately $593,000. As part of his plea, Drago is required to surrender his check cashing licenses, his federal money services business registrations and he is barred from applying for any such licenses or registrations in the future.
Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI), and Shirin Emami, Acting Superintendent, New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), announced the guilty plea.
“Drago’s guilty plea makes clear that running a check cashing business is not a license to evade financial reports to cheat the IRS or a blank check for committing fraud,” stated Acting United States Attorney Kasulis. “This Office will prosecute and hold to account defendants like Drago who, under the guise of running a legitimate business, are actually engaging in egregious schemes to avoid paying taxes.”
“Drago’s plea today acknowledges his egregious misuse of Kayla Companies as a conduit to circumvent mandatory CTR filing requirements and evade employment taxes of Kayla Company employees. Greedy tax evasion schemes such as those facilitated by Drago, critically impair the integrity of our financial system and directly impact employees, who may see future benefits such as Social Security, Medicare or Unemployment Compensation reduced or eliminated because of Drago’s willful disregard of the law. IRS Criminal Investigation works tirelessly to protect the American taxpayer and maintain public confidence in our system of taxation,” stated IRS-CI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Fattorusso.
“John Drago breached the public trust by using his licensed check-cashing businesses to engage in illegal structuring transactions,” said Shirin Emami, Acting Superintendent of Financial Services. “DFS applauds the Eastern District of New York’s prosecution and is pleased to have been able to coordinate with the EDNY on this matter.”
According to court filings and facts presented at the plea proceeding, Drago owned and operated check cashing businesses on Long Island, including Kayla Check Cashing Corp., North Island Check Cashing Corp., South Island Check Cashing Corp., East Island Check Cashing Corp., Bay Shore Check Cashing Corp. and Brentwood Check Cashing Corp. (collectively, the “Kayla Companies”). Financial institutions are required to file a Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”) for each cash transaction in excess of $10,000. In addition, a CTR is required to be filed by the financial institution when multiple checks, the total value of which exceeds $10,000, are cashed in a single day.
From January 2010 to October 31, 2013, Drago instructed employees to cash multiple checks in excess of $10,000 in a single day for certain customers without filing required CTRs. In addition, to avoid the required CTR filings, Drago directed employees to deposit and cash checks that had been submitted together on a single day in amounts in excess of $10,000. Drago also instructed employees to tell certain customers who presented individual checks in amounts exceeding $10,000 to return with multiple checks in amounts that were less than $10,000 to avoid the reporting requirement for such financial transactions. As a result of Drago’s scheme, more than $9.5 million in check cashing transactions were concealed from the IRS.
Between April 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013, Drago paid overtime wages and commissions to employees of the Kayla Companies in cash and failed to inform the IRS of the payment of these cash wages. Drago falsely underreported to the IRS the gross wages paid to his employees to avoid paying the full amount of Federal Insurance Contribution Act taxes that the Kayla Companies owed.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Burton T. Ryan, Jr., Bradley T. King and Madeline O’Connor are in charge of the prosecution.
Central Islip, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CR-394 (S-1) (GRB)
Department of Justice
Office of the U.S. Attorney
Eastern District of New York