2nd convenience store owner pleads guilty to tax refund theft

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Clay County Sheriff's Office booking photos of Antoun Arbaji, Emad Abduljaber, Abass Issa & Yousef Issa

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 47-year-old Fleming Island man pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing government property described as fraudulently-obtained tax refunds.

Abass Issa faces up to 10 years in federal prison, as well as an obligation to pay back restitution to the U.S. in the amount of $1,909,403.66. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to the plea agreement, Issa owned and operated a convenience store in Green Cove Springs known as V&J Stores Inc. Antoun Arbaji, who previously pleaded guilty on May 27, owned and operated another convenience store, Fina Express, a few blocks away.

In 2011, Issa began obtaining fraudulent tax refund checks and fraudulently-obtained refund anticipation loan checks 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.

The last individual was prosecuted in the Northern District of Florida.

Many of the fraudulent tax refund checks and refund anticipation loan checks were obtained in the names of individuals who were dead at the time when the tax returns were filed.

According to court records, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations and the United States Secret Service seized more than $352,000 from Arbaji's bank account prior to the return of an indictment in this case.

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