Feds: Convenience store owner stole tax refunds


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Green Cove Springs convenience store owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing nearly $2 million in fraudulently-obtained tax refunds.

U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley III announced that Antoun Arbaji and co-defendant Abas Issa owned and operated a convenience store known as V&J Stores. Arbaji owned and operated a second convenience store, Fina Express, a few blocks away.

According to the plea agreement, Issa began obtaining both fraudulently-obtained tax refund checks and refund anticipation loan checks in 2011 from a source in Tampa. Issa, in turn, located individuals like Arbaji who, for a percentage fee, would cash the checks through their business accounts.

After cashing the checks, Arbaji would remit the cash proceeds to Issa. Issa, in turn, would keep a fee and remit the remainder of the proceeds to the source of the checks in Tampa.

During 2011, Arbaji cashed more than $1.5 million in fraudulently-obtained tax refund checks and more than $400,000 in fraudulently-obtained refund anticipation loan checks, using his Fina Express business account. After cashing the checks, he delivered the proceeds to Issa, who, after collecting his fee, delivered the remaining proceeds to a source in Tampa. Many of the fraudulent checks were issued on behalf of individuals who were deceased at the time the tax returns were filed.

According to court records, more than $352,000 was seized from Arbaji's bank account prior to the return of an indictment in this case.

Arbaji was arrested one year ago charged with three counts of organized dealing in stolen property.

Arbaji faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, as well as an obligation to pay back approximately $1,909,403.66 in restitution to the United States. A sentencing date has not yet been set.