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Mother-Son Team Sentenced for Tax Fraud, Obstruction of Justice

by Derek Gilna

Debra Skipper, a 61-year-old Ohio woman, was sentenced on October 31, 2017 in federal district court in Clarksburg, West Virginia to a split sentence of six months in jail and six months of home detention on charges related to wire fraud. Her co-defendant and son, Tyree Skipper, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony aggravated identity theft after stealing tax identification numbers from fellow prisoners at FCI Gilmer. He was sentenced on May 30, 2017 and will serve two additional years in prison.

Incarcerated fraudsters have engaged in similar schemes for many years, using stolen Social Security numbers to file false tax returns. Prison Legal News has reported that such scams have cost the Internal Revenue Service hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past – and resulted in numerous prisoners being prosecuted. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.46; Aug. 2011, p.10; May 2007, p.22].

Debra Skipper, a first-time federal offender, had declined to plead guilty, which would have yielded a potential sentencing range of four to 10 months. She instead opted to go to a jury trial, where she was found guilty of two counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She was acquitted on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

More importantly, going to trial pushed her into a higher sentencing range, decreasing the possibility that she would receive probation. Having opted for a trial, she was not eligible for a two-level reduction for “acceptance of responsibility,” which would have further reduced her sentence.

After Skipper’s trial testimony, the government produced recordings of phone calls between her and her son in which they discussed their plan to prepare false tax returns using forms she mailed into the prison.

According to the federal indictment, Skipper and her son had defrauded the IRS, the Hawaii Department of Taxation, the Ohio Department of Taxation and the South Carolina Department of Revenue. According to The Exponent Telegram, although defense counsel asked for a variance that would have allowed a sentence of probation, citing Skipper’s "excellent work history, her lifetime of poverty, a childhood of abuse and a diagnosis of mental illness," Senior U.S. District Court Judge Irene M. Keeley noted that Skipper had failed to testify truthfully during the trial and therfore imposed a sentencing enhancement.

Fortunately for Skipper, the government apparently shut down the fraudulent tax scheme before additional losses were incurred that would have increased the sentence she faced. She was denied bond pending an appeal but allowed to self-report to federal prison in early 2018. See: United States v. Skipper, U.S.D.C. (N.D. WV), Case No. 1:16-cr-00082-IMK-MJA. 

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Note: This article has been updated.

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Related legal case

United States v. Skipper