The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

Hand pulling out file in filing cabinet with tax forms and papers with words Refund and Taxes 2018 handwritten on file folder conceptual dollar signs images and light bulb for ideas on tax refund conceptual financial planning photography

Sometimes, when people occupy high positions within a corporation, the power and the prestige of it all goes to their head. And they carry out illegal schemes that result in tax fraud convictions. That’s what happened to Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Ga., who owned and ran two fake charitable organizations in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Court documents show that Hightower’s two non-profit organizations purportedly served underprivileged kids. Those bogus charities actually served Hightower and two relatives, one who worked as a Senior Vice President at Bank of America in Boston. (Aha, the plot thickens.)

From approximately 2010 to 2015, Hightower received more than $650,000 in donations from Palenstine Ace, the wife of family member Jonathan Ace. But as you might guess, these were not donations, but proceeds from an embezzlement scheme led by Palestine Ace and her husband. Hightower agreed to receive these “donations” in exchange for paying about 25 percent of the funds back to the couple in kickbacks. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave.)

So, where did that 75 percent or $487,500 go? Not to underprivileged children, but to pay Hightower’s expenses. (She was the charity case.) Then she had the audacity to file false personal and organizational tax returns in 2013 and 2014. She claimed she had significant amounts of non-existent and inflated business expenses. (Perhaps this was due to her significantly flated ego.) This claim of course, lowered her tax liability and reduced the amount she would have to pay the IRS.

Meanwhile, the Aces used their take, or approximately $162,500 in misdirected funds, to purchase a 2014 Lexus SUV, a $17,000 Kawasaki motorcycle and throw a lavish birthday party, according to court documents.

Hightower pleaded guilty to tax fraud for filing false tax returns. When sentenced in July, she could face up to three years in prison, one year of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Family members Palestine and Jonathan Ace were both convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to one year and two years in prison, respectively.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Owner of Fake Georgia Charitable Organizations Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud,” dated March 16, 2021.

BOSTON – The owner of several bogus charitable organizations in Georgia pleaded guilty today to filing false tax returns.

Taressa Hightower, 60, of Grayson, Ga., pleaded guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns. U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young scheduled sentencing for July 12, 2021.





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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.