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Store owners sentenced for income tax refund fraud

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two Green Cove Springs convenience store owners were sentenced Monday for income tax refund fraud.

Abass Issa was sentenced to three years and two months in federal prison and Antoun Arbaji was sentenced to two years in federal prison for theft of government property.

The court also ordered each to serve a three-year term of supervision following their incarceration, and to repay the United States a total of $1,566,819.45 in restitution.

Arbaji and Issa pleaded guilty on May 27 and June 26, respectively.

According to court documents, Arbaji owned and operated a Fina Express convenience store in Green Cove Springs. Issa owned and operated V&J Stores Inc., another convenience store in Green Cove Springs.

Beginning in 2011, Issa began obtaining known fraudulent IRS refund checks from a source in Tampa. The checks were either in the form of United States Treasury checks or tax refund anticipation loans. Many of the refund checks were issued in the names of deceased individuals, though some were issued in the names of living taxpayers. Over 200 stolen identities were involved in the scheme.

After Issa obtained the checks in bulk from his source in Tampa, he then located individuals, like Arbaji, to cash the checks in exchange for a fee. All proceeds were given to Issa, who kept a portion, and then returned the remainder to his Tampa source.

During 2011, Issa and Arbaji used Arbaji's bank account to cash $1,512,607 in fraudulent United States Treasury checks and $406,795 in fraudulent refund anticipation loans. Prior to indictment, the United States seized $352,584 from Arbaji's bank account.