Bond denied for 2 accused in tax fraud scheme

Judge upset at contact among defendants

 

Two defendants accused of taking part in a million-dollar tax fraud scheme must remain in custody pending trial, a judge has determined.

In an order filed Friday, U.S. Magistrate Court Judge W. Leon Barfield said there was no way to protect the community or prevent obstruction of justice unless An­gela Wil­lingham and Mat­thew Har­rington were denied bond.

They are among 12 defendants named in a 145-count federal indictment. All of the defendants – who include Har­ring­ton’s children, sisters and a nephew – have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, tax fraud and aggravated identity theft.

According to court records and earlier hearings in federal court in Augusta, Wil­lingham is accused of leading a scheme that stole about $1.3 million by filing false income tax returns for people whose identities were stolen.

Willingham’s sisters, Ja­nice Smalley and Patrice Ro­ber­son, are accused of using their positions at Georgia Regents Medical Center and the Gracewood State Hos­pi­tal campus in Au­gusta to steal patients’ personal information.

According to the indictment, the information was funneled to Willingham and used to create phony income tax return forms that claimed Georgia Lottery winnings and large tax withholding from them.

The tax return checks were deposited into bank accounts opened by the defendants, the indictment says.

Willingham and the others continued the scheme even after it became obvious federal agents were investigating them, the judge wrote.

Willingham and Harring­ton are accused of destroying evidence, and Willingham is accused of trying to obstruct the investigation by encouraging a co-defendant to lie to investigators.

According to Barfield’s order, even after all the defendants were warned in court and by pretrial services officers that they could not contact each other, Smalley visited Willingham and Har­ring­ton in jail. Wil­ling­ham’s ex-husband, Bryan Gus­tave, also visited Har­ring­ton in violation of his probation officer’s instructions. Gustave and Willingham were convicted in a drug conspiracy in 1998.

The judge wrote that he “must conclude that neither An­gela Wil­lingham nor Mat­thew Har­rington are amendable to the traditional judicial restraints placed on the conduct of those accused and convicted of crime.”

A trial date has not been set.

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