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Irvine : Tax Preparer Sentenced in Gift Shops Scheme

An Irvine tax preparer was sentenced to nine years in state prison Friday for bilking 27 investors out of more than $1 million through a fraudulent scheme involving five gift shops he operated.

Superior Court Judge M. Ross Bigelow granted a defense motion to allow James Okura Jr. to delay serving his prison sentence pending the outcome of his appeal if he can post $250,000 bail.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Lowenstein pointed out that Okura has been in custody for some time because he has not been able to raise $200,000 bail, and therefore is unlikely to be able to raise the larger amount.

Lowenstein said that Okura, 39, lured investors with promises of a 50% annual return on their money from the gift shops he opened, starting in 1979. Four of the stores were in Solvang, near Santa Barbara, and the fifth was in Fountain Valley.

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The prosecutor said a state Corporations Department investigation showed that while some of the investments actually went into the stores, a substantial amount was used to pay back other investors, or went into Okura’s own pocket.

Lowenstein said that Okura persuaded some of the investors, many of whom were of Japanese descent, to refinance their homes, and at least two ultimately lost their homes.


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