Metro-East News

ESL woman who filed 201 fraudulent tax claims gets six years

She defrauded the federal government out of $1.4 million by filing more than 200 fraudulent tax forms. In some cases, she stole people’s Social Security numbers to file false income tax returns.

Now, Doressa Braggs, 47, of East St. Louis, is going to prison for nearly six years.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan on Friday sentenced Braggs to 46 months in prison for filing false tax returns. He gave her another 24 months for aggravated identity theft.

While Braggs was defrauding the government, she was living in public housing through the St. Clair County Housing Authority. She also received food stamps and government-subsidized medical insurance and collected a supplemental Social Security check for her son.

Braggs even filed a tax return for her oldest son, who was in jail for a murder. She claimed he was working at a St. Louis hospital and was a mechanic, too, according to federal prosecutor Norm Smith.

He said that Braggs’ case was extremely difficult to investigate because her family and friends cursed out investigators. He described the case as “a spider web of interlocking transactions.”

“I am mad about that,” Smith told Reagan. He said some of the witnesses probably should be going to jail, too. He recommended a 70-month sentence.

Smith also said Braggs charged between $500-$1,000 to prepare fraudulent tax returns for others. And he said Braggs acknowledged that she spent a lot of money on drinking and gambling. She even had a 16-year-old working with her, Smith said.

He said Braggs learned the tax scheme from another individual who has not yet been prosecuted.

Braggs wiped tears from her eyes several times throughout the sentencing.

“I am a hypocrite. I am a liar. I am a cheater,” Braggs said.

Defense attorney Gil Sisson said Braggs made some bad decisions because she was trying to be everything for her relatives — she couldn’t tell them “no” when they came to her for money and other things. He said a two-year sentence was enough because Braggs was already worried about spending one day in jail. “She’s scared to death,” Sisson said.

Braggs said a prison term would be a burden on her family, including her 12-year-old son.

“My son is my life. He knows what I did. I am not a good parent. I took the easy way out,” she said.

Reagan said a long prison term was needed to deter others.

Reagan said, “Unfortunately when anyone goes to prison, there is negative collateral damage to their family.” He added that Braggs has family members who can help care for her son.

Reagan said Braggs ran a sophisticated tax scheme. He said she knew what she was doing, even down to education credits.

“You have to understand tax credits. This defendant was able to put it together. I don’t understand education tax credits,” Reagan said.

Reagan said the money Braggs defrauded the government out of could have been using for other government programs.

Starting in 2010 and continuing until the summer of 2012, Braggs electronically filed 201 false tax returns to obtain money fraudulently from the IRS.

The IRS used databases to uncover the scheme.

Braggs used W-2 forms that claimed false wages and false federal withholdings. In some cases, Braggs falsified the W-2s she received from her clients to overstate wages and federal withholdings. In cases where her clients were unemployed or did not have W-2s, Braggs fabricated an entire W-2. Many of the returns she filed claimed false Schedule C business expenses/losses. Typically, Braggs listed grooming-type professions such as hairstylist or beautician.

Braggs often applied for prepaid debit cards in her clients’ names and sent them to addresses that she controlled. She then would load the fraudulent refunds onto the prepaid cards and would take some or all of the money on the cards.