Thursday, August 27, 2009

Special Trials Unit Convicts City's Biggest Tax Cheat

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Deputy City Attorney Richard Kraft, (pictured above with Investigator Brian Young from the Office of the Controller) successfully concluded the prosecution of the man who holds the dubious distinction of being at the top of the Office of Finance's "Top Debtors List." Kraft is the Supervising Attorney of the City Attorney's Special Trials Unit

After a three week trial, a jury unanimously convicted 47 year old Sohrab Sahab and his company, Prestige Parking, of a total of 295 counts comprising of:
135 counts of failing to remit parking occupancy taxes to the City;
149 counts of failing to file parking occupancy tax reporting forms; and
11 counts of operating parking lots in the City without a permit.

The convictions come in the wake of a 2006 investigation conducted by the City Attorney’s Office and City Controller's Waste, Fraud and Abuse Unit, working in close partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, following a referral from the Mayor’s Office. The investigation uncovered evidence that Prestige Parking had for years collected, but failed to pay, hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in parking occupancy taxes for 29 parking lots.

“In these times of fiscal hardship for our City and our community, this should send a clear message that financial crimes against the City and taxpayers will not be tolerated,” said Kraft. Investigator Young worked with Kraft throughout the three years that this case has wended its way through the court's criminal and civil courts. The City Attorney’s Office is also currently pursuing a parallel civil action against Prestige Parking for additional unpaid taxes.

Despite City Controller Wendy Greuel's comment that "This conviction sends the message to all tax scofflaws, that cheating on your business taxes may seem appealing in the short-term, but we will do everything in our power to come after you and save taxpayer dollars," the Honorable Judge Edmund Clarke seemed less inclined to sentence Sahab to a lengthy jail sentence.

At the sentencing hearing on August 14, Judge Clarke dismissed the prosecution's suggested sentence of 4 years in jail as "too long," and expressed concerns as to whether the defendant was "too ill to go to jail."

Judge Clarke had patiently listened to defense attorney Roger Diamond's arguments that defendant suffered numerous health issues, especially a sleeping disorder (sleep apnea) requiring the use of a "CPAP device." Diamond asserted that the CPAP device would not be available to the defendant in County Jail, and in his sentencing memorandum, Diamond stated that "the court would be risking the imposition of a de facto death sentence on him by sentencing him to any stay in a lock up facility."

Judge Clarke seemed troubled by the issues raised by the defense and related a personal experience from his practice as a private attorney; he had represented a client whose husband had died as a result the lack of a CPAP device. The judge expressed doubts that the Jail would be able to take adequate care of the defendant due to his "many health issues." Accordingly, sentencing was continued to Thursday, August 20, at 1:30PM.

After the hearing Kraft immediately made arrangements to visit the Jail's medical facilities at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, pictured below.

Kraft's strategy was to be fully prepared, with evidence as well as argument, to refute any doubt that the defendant could not receive adequate care in custody.

Kraft used the pictures below to prove that the County Jail had adequate, indeed, exceptional medical care facilities.

Scrupulously clean conditions in the Jail's medical ward

A single occupant cell in the medical ward

And a CPAP Device, one of several available to inmates in need

In addition to obtaining pictorial evidence, Kraft also interviewed key members of the Jail's medical staff, and had them subpoenaed, in court and ready to testify when the sentencing hearing took place.

Kraft's preparation paid off. Judge Clarke indicated that he was satisfied that the defendant would receive adequate medical care in the County Jail, and sentenced the defendant to 525 days in Jail, 10 years of probation and $295,000 in fines. Restitution to the City of Los Angeles was ordered, and will be the subject of further litigation.

The case attracted print and broadcast media attention, and the Fox 11 News report can be seen here:

Deputy City Attorney Richard Kraft deserves the thanks of all Los Angelenos, and in City Attorney Carmen Trutainch's words "I want to extend my congratulations to Richard and the Special Trials Unit for their outstanding efforts in this case, and on behalf of the City’s taxpayers."

Documents of interest:

Prosecution Sentencing Recommendation

Defense Sentencing Memorandum

Posted By: David Berger
Main Photo By: Nigel Skeet
Other Credits: Fox 11 News