Tax fraud scam leads to federal conviction

A former local minister was convicted Friday of 22 federal crimes of conspiracy, theft of public money, and aggravated identity theft involving fraudulent tax returns.

The jury deliberated several hours in U.S. District Court in Augusta before finding Jesse J. Flournoy III, 36, of Riverdale, Ga., guilty of all counts.

According to the indictment, Flournoy was responsible for the theft and fraud of nearly $123,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Clark asked that Flournoy, who had been free on bond, be remanded into custody pending his sentencing. He said that because of the aggravated identity theft convictions – punishable by a minimum two-year consecutive prison term – Flournoy faces a sentence of 18 to 20 years.

Defense attorney John Taylor countered that Flournoy met all of his pre-trial bond conditions, that he was working, married and the father of eight children ages 1 month to 14 years.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall, however, ordered Flournoy be taken into custody, pointing out his history of failing to appear for court proceedings on two occasions, and a probation violation.

Flournoy, who was pastor of a former church on Wylds Road, participated in a conspiracy from September 2011 through January 2012. Shonta Merriweather, 40, of Augusta, who was indicted along with Flournoy, testified this week that Flournoy was the ringleader.

In exchange for a percentage of the take, Flournoy had Merriweather take IRS tax return checks and power-of-attorney forms to a Columbia County check-cashing business, she testified. The checks were made out to other people, but the power-of-attorney forms gave the impression she had permission to cash the checks.

“He wasn’t the middleman, he was head man,” Merriweather testified. Flournoy used her as a front so he wouldn’t be seen, she said.

Merriweather is in custody awaiting sentencing. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy June 18.

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