There’s no shortage of people who trusted Maung No.
In the eyes of the Burmese refugees who now call Buffalo home, who better to count on, who better to go to for advice, than a young and respected tax preparer, himself a refugee.
And then came the truth about No.
Turns out he was a crook who took advantage of more than 1,000 Burmese refugees and along the way cheated the IRS out of $2.3 million.
He’s going to federal prison for two years.
“I hurt a lot of people in my community and I’m deeply sorry about that,” No told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara on Tuesday.
Prosecutors say No’s criminal activity was rooted in his clients’ trust in him, a trust he exploited. Without their knowledge, he improperly added fraudulent tax credits to their yearly tax returns.
The goal, according to prosecutors, was to increase people’s refunds and, in turn, the percentage fee paid to No’s now-defunct employer, VPS Income Tax and BTS Income Tax. The company’s fee was usually 10 percent of its client’s return.
“There were more than 1,000 victims,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross. “And now, they’re stuck with the liability to the IRS.”
Local immigration advocates say No’s prosecution is evidence of a larger problem – the financial illiteracy of refugees.
They say No’s targeting of people in his own community is not unique to Buffalo or the local refugee community. They say local organizations have a long history of providing personal finance information to refugees, and yet people continue to fall victim to crooks and con artists.
Ross said the fraudulent tax returns were filed in 2011 and 2012 and resulted in a $2.3 million loss to the IRS. No, who now works in Seattle, was ordered to repay that money as part of his sentence.
Lawrence Desiderio, No’s defense lawyer, says his client never profited from the tax scheme and that No’s boss was the one who orchestrated the scam. He also pointed to No’s difficult background – he spent 15 years in a refugee camp after fleeing Burma – and the fallout from his criminal conviction.
“He’s been kind of ostracized by the Burmese community,” Desiderio said of his client.
As part of his deal with prosecutors, No pleaded guilty to a felony charge of preparing false tax returns. He was investigated by the IRS’ Criminal Investigations Division.