Unhappy returns for scam involving dead and taxes - The Buffalo News

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Unhappy returns for scam involving dead and taxes

They may vote in Chicago, but here in Western New York, dead people are hamstrung in what they can do.

And, yes, filing false tax returns and getting a refund back from the IRS are definite no-nos.

John M. Berry Jr. learned that Friday when a federal judge sentenced him to 41 months in prison for exploiting the identities of 122 dead people.

“It shocks the conscience,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said. “It’s very difficult to fathom.”

Berry, 42, of Dunkirk, is going to prison after he admitted filing dozens of false tax returns on behalf of the dearly departed in 2008 and 2009.

He also admitted receiving $92,462 in refunds, money he will have to repay once he’s out of prison.

“I’m embarrassed for me and my family,” Berry told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. “I do have a drug problem. I need help.”

Mango asked for a shorter sentence, but Arcara rejected his request, citing Berry’s long criminal record and the fact that he took advantage of families with recently deceased loved ones.

“I don’t know if the families even know,” Arcara said at one point.

When Tracy Hayes, a federal public defender, tried to explain the link between Berry’s drug use and criminal activity, the judge cut him off.

Arcara noted that Berry filed 122 separate returns, each one a fake and each one with a false W-2 form that he created using the dead people’s identities.

“He tried to get $217,000 of your money, your money,” Arcara said to Hayes.

“He’s remorseful,” Hayes replied. “From Day One, he’s admitted his conduct.”

Berry’s sentence is the result of an investigation by the Criminal Investigations Unit of the IRS.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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