From 2009 through 2014, Elpidio Gongora (aka “Pete Gongora”), operated a number of personal injury law offices in Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico. The lawyers in these firms apparently obtained settlements on behalf of their clients, but Gongora did not deliver the money to their clients nor to the medical providers who treated them. Instead, he fraudulently endorsed the settlement checks and took the cash. Some of it was paid to insurance and tow truck companies in order to obtain information on accident victims. The rest was used to purchase luxury items for himself and his wife.
One of the lawyers was part of the scheme. Attorney Ronald Higgins permitted Gongora and Juan Rodriguez, another co-conspirator, to use his law license to further their fraudulent activities. Bookkeeper Rosa Ramirez was also in on it. The other lawyers were apparently unaware of what was going on.
The story doesn’t end there. In 2013, Gongora and his wife filed for bankruptcy, and decided not to disclose some of their property to the bankruptcy court – including a 33-foot cabin cruiser, a 29-foot boat, a Ford F-150 truck, a residence, and some other real property in Texas. They also evaded more than $1.6 million in federal income taxes payable from 2003 through 2005, and from 2007 through 2013.
Any of Gongora’s actions could have triggered the investigation, which was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Office of the U.S. Trustee.
Charges and sentencing
On July 28, 2016, Gongora plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and tax evasion. On April 4, 2017, he was sentenced to imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay $3,490,000 in restitution to the IRS.
Gongora’s three co-conspirators in the personal injury matter all plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Higgins he was sentenced and was ordered to pay $1,490,000 in restitution (liability for that restitution payment was joint and several with Gongora). As of the date of this writing, the June 13, 2017 sentences for Ramirez and Rodriguez have not yet been published.
San Francisco financial crimes attorneys
If you are being investigated for a tax and/or other monetary crime, you need a law firm knowledgeable about the complexities and interworking of both criminal law and tax law. The comprehensive approach of Moskowitz, LLP can help you. Contact our California office today.