Elizabeth Wopperer lost everything. She lost her business. She lost $40,000 in cash. And by the time it was all over, she found herself filing for bankruptcy.
On top of all that, the IRS now wants the money that was stolen from her.
The man she blames is going to federal prison for up to 30 months, but that won’t return the cleaning business she was forced to sell or pay the taxes she now owes because of his fraudulent actions.
“She’s an employee of a business she used to run,” her niece, Sara Gruszka, said in court Wednesday.
And Wopperer is just one of Vincent P. Mangione’s victims.
“I feel I’ve been victimized twice – once by Mr. Mangione and again by the IRS,” said Richard Schunke, owner of a West Seneca insurance agency.
Mangione, the operator of a North Tonawanda payroll and tax preparation business, was supposed to pay federal income taxes on behalf of his clients but didn’t.
He chose instead to pocket some of the money, which means Schunke, Wopperer and several others are still on the hook for those taxes.
Wopperer said the IRS is working with her, but Schunke said the government filed a tax lien against his business that makes it difficult for him to continue operating, never mind pay his overdue taxes.
“They’ve ruined my credit,” he said of the IRS. “And I look like a deadbeat.”
IRS officials declined to comment, citing a prohibition on talking about specific tax cases. But in the past, they have made it clear that individuals and businesses are responsible for their taxes, even when they use a tax preparer.
And yes, even when that tax preparer steals from them.
“No logical reason can explain what I’ve done,” Mangione told Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny at Wednesday’s sentencing.
With most of Mangione’s victims looking on, Skretny admonished him for betraying the trust of his clients, many of whom are now facing serious financial problems.
He also ordered him to pay $839,000 in restitution to the victims.
“It comes down to greed more than anything else,” Skretny told Mangione.
“It’s just plain wrong. It’s just plain unfair. It’s just plain criminal conduct, and you have to be held accountable.”
Federal prosecutors claim Mangione, who operated MTS Payroll and Mil-Sher Tax Services Inc., routinely filed false quarterly tax returns on behalf of the small-business owners he represented and then pocketed the difference.
They also claim Mangione bilked a local bank by depositing checks into an account he knew had insufficient funds and then withdrawing the funds before his checks cleared.
Mangione, 49, pleaded guilty in October to bank fraud and tax evasion.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the harm Mr. Mangione has done has damaged the victims for a long time,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiGiacomo.
Herbert L. Greenman, one of Mangione’s lawyers, countered by reminding the judge that his client is handing over more than $675,00 in cash and property as a first step in repaying the victims.
“They wanted, in the worst way, for this money to be paid back,” Greenman said of Mangione and his wife. “They could have walked away, but they never once faltered.”
The victims, four of whom spoke in court, didn’t buy it. One by one, they outlined for Skretny what Mangione’s actions have done to them.
Camille Kirkland, a small-business owner in Cheektowaga, said Mangione “devastated us emotionally and destroyed us financially.”
“We get accountants because we hope they have our interests in mind,” Kirkland said. “We know Vinnie had only his interest in mind. He stole and cheated for his own personal gain.”
One victim, who asked not to be named, suggested that Mangione’s actions have come close to ruining him and his family.
“It’s been devastating,” he told the judge.
“I can’t pay for my kids’ education in college, and I don’t know how it’s going to end up. It’s devastated my marriage, and now it’s devastating my kids’ future.”