Man pleads guilty to conspiracy in IRS fraud scheme

Texarkana Federal Courthouse

One of three defendants named in a 19-count indictment pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering Tuesday in a Texarkana, Texas, federal court.

Osazuwa Peter Okunoghae, aka “Sazzy Pe,” “Lee Hong,” and “Zheng Kong,” 41, was brought from jail for a plea hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. Okunoghae is represented by Dallas attorney Dimitri Dube.

Okunoghae pleaded guilty to count 19 of the indictment, conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Okunoghae, Michael Martin of Texarkana, Texas, and Michelle Coppolla, a resident of Virginia, are charged in the indictment which alleges the three were involved in a conspiracy to use stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns and defraud the U.S. government of more than $1 million in IRS refunds.

Martin was arraigned at a court appearance Jan. 31 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. Texarkana attorney David Crisp entered pleas of not guilty to all 19 counts listed in the indictment. Craven released Martin on an unsecured $10,000 appearance bond. The court docket in the case shows Coppolla has not appeared in the case. She is charged only in count one.

Count 1 of the indictment charges all three defendants with conspiracy to commit theft of public money by obtaining fraudulent tax refunds from the IRS. A number of different banks were used to receive and distribute the stolen money including banks in Texarkana such as Domino Federal Credit Union, Regions Bank and Red River Employee Federal Credit Union.

Counts 2 through 8 accuse Martin and Okunoghae of theft of government money and lists eight separate refunds received under fraudulent means in 2014. Counts 9 through 15 accuse Martin and Okunoghae of aggravated identity theft. Count 16 accuses the two men of money laundering and describes a series of transactions at a variety of banks.

Counts 17 and 18 allege money laundering by the men while count 19 alleges conspiracy to commit money laundering existed between Okunoghae and Martin.

Okunoghae is currently in federal custody. He will return to court for sentencing in several months after the court has received a presentence investigation report with a recommendation for punishment under federal guidelines.

A notice of forfeiture filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Kummerfeld states that the government is seeking to seize cash from Okunoghae.

“As part of the plea agreement with the United States, the defendant consented to the forfeiture of his interest in $451,117.63 in United States currency,” the notice states.

Martin’s case is scheduled for a trial Feb. 24 in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

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