Lured 444 Clients : Ex-Tax Preparer Gets 3 Years in Refund Plot

San Diego County Business Editor

Former National City tax preparer Jerry G. Sonido Jr. on Monday was sentenced to three years in prison for masterminding a scheme that lured 444 clients by promising them federal income tax refunds of about $1.1 million.

Sonido, who was also sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $10,000 in fines, was found guilty in July of 17 counts of conspiracy and filing false income tax claims.

As a condition of Sonido’s probation, U.S. District Judge Leland C. Nielsen also prohibited him from preparing any tax return other than his own and that of his wife Eleanor. She was also sentenced Monday to three years’ probation after her conviction in July on one count of conspiracy.

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Two other employees of Sonido’s National City tax preparation firm pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting and were given probation.

Sonido’s attorney, Frank Gregorcich, told Nielsen that his client has an “inability to publicly admit his guilt,” and that he suffers from an “erroneous belief . . . that this is a civil matter, not a criminal matter.”

Sonido pleaded with Nielsen to “let me make amends . . . my conscience bothers me (and) I regret the inconvenience I’ve caused to everybody.”

Assistant U.S. Atty. Herbert Hoffman argued that Sonido should be sentenced to seven years in prison because “there is no way for him to stand here and say he didn’t know this was a fraud. This was not a half-assed plan . . . it was a substantially sophisticated fraud.”

Prosecutors charged that Sonido’s firm amended clients’ returns by taking bogus deductions for sales tax, medical expenses, casualty and theft losses and false income tax credits.

Because Internal Revenue Service agents acted swiftly, only 41 of Sonido’s clients received refunds, which totaled less than $50,000.

Most of the clients’ claims had not yet been filed with the government and some of their income tax documents were discovered by undercover agents in a trash bin near Sonido’s office.