Immigration advocate in Arizona pleads guilty to tax charge
By JACQUES BILLEAUD
Aug. 31, 2018
PHOENIX (AP) — A longtime advocate for immigrants in Arizona has pleaded guilty Friday to a felony charge tied to his tax preparation business after acknowledging that he falsely added dependents — including three children who lived in Mexico — to his clients' tax returns to maximize refundable credits.
Elias Bermudez, who more than a decade ago led protests against Arizona's immigration laws and then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio's crackdowns on immigrants, pleaded guilty to one charge of assisting in the preparation of false tax returns.
Authorities say Bermudez, who owned a business that helped immigrants prepare immigration and tax documents, prepared 27 false income tax returns from 2010 through 2012 and encouraged clients to list family members living in Mexico — many of whom weren't their children — as dependents.
In pleading guilty, Bermudez acknowledged that he filed one false tax return that listed three Mexican children as dependents, leading to a $4,000 loss for the United States' government. As part of the plea, 26 other charges against Bermudez will be dismissed.
The 67-year-old Bermudez faces up to three years in prison.
He told U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa that he made a terrible mistake in not asking whether the three children in question lived in the United States.
He is known for kneeling down in front of Arpaio at a 2006 protest to ask the lawman to stop arresting immigrants, a request the sheriff denied.
Bermudez previously worked as a talk show host for a Spanish-language radio show in Phoenix and served as a leader of the group Immigrants Without Borders and as a vice mayor in San Luis, Arizona.
He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in 1996 for a money laundering conviction.
In addition, a county judge in Arizona ordered him to stop offering immigration services after clients alleged they paid for services they never received. Bermudez moved to New Mexico in 2012 but his business was shut down by the attorney general because he wasn't authorized to provide immigration consulting services.
In his latest criminal case, authorities say they recorded Bermudez, while meeting with undercover IRS agents who posed as potential clients, telling the agents they should include false dependents on their returns to reduce their tax liability.
Prosecutors say the IRS flagged Bermudez as an outlier for his use of refundable tax credits.
They said Bermudez told IRS agents in a recorded interview that he was previously targeted by state law enforcement for other services his business provided because of his advocacy for immigrants.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO .