Fisher pleads guilty to tax fraudA former executive at a North Dakota construction materials company has pleaded guilty to nine felony charges in a case that prosecutors said involved about $630,000 in unpaid taxes.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — A former executive at a North Dakota construction materials company has pleaded guilty to nine felony charges in a case that prosecutors said involved about $630,000 in unpaid taxes.
Michael Fisher, 36, was accused of using corporate funds from Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. Inc. to build a home, take an African vacation, renovate a Dickinson truck stop he owned and pay utility and medical bills for himself and family members. He is a former vice president of the company, which was founded by his father, Gene Fisher.
Fisher pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to conspiring to commit tax fraud and to charges that he helped prepare individual and corporate income tax returns over four years that understated his personal income and overstated the company’s allowable tax deductions for business expenses. His trial had been scheduled to start Monday.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland set Fisher’s sentencing for Aug. 17, although the judge described it as a tentative date. Fisher will remain free until his sentencing on his promise to show up for future court dates.
Another defendant in the case, Clyde Frank, a former comptroller at Fisher Sand & Gravel, is to be sentenced the same day. The company’s former chief financial officer, Amiel Schaff, is to be sentenced July 13. Both men pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy to commit tax fraud.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, said Christopher Strauss, a prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department’s tax division. The remaining eight felonies each have a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Hovland said federal sentencing guidelines indicate Fisher may be facing a prison term of 33 months to 41 months on the charges of helping to prepare false tax returns.
Hovland is not bound by the guidelines, which consider the severity of Fisher’s offenses and his criminal history. He has a 2001 conviction for drunken driving and a misdemeanor offense in Kentucky for stealing a license plate, court officials said.
During Friday’s court hearing, Fisher said he began working for Fisher Sand & Gravel in 1997, after finishing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Kentucky. He said he lives in Dickinson and Phoenix, where his family now lives.
“How did you get caught up in this? How did it all evolve?” Hovland asked. Fisher did not reply, and his attorney, Jon Jensen, said some context for the charges would be provided when Fisher is sentenced.
Fisher declined to answer questions after the hearing except to give his age. His defense attorneys contend Fisher’s actions cost the government less than $400,000 in lost tax collections, instead of the $630,000 figure used by prosecutors. The charges cover the time period from January 2001 through Sept. 19, 2005.
Fisher Sand & Gravel is based in Dickinson, and has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and South Dakota, its Web site says. It crushes gravel for road construction, and has affiliated companies that supply concrete and asphalt, specialize in earth moving and demolition, and manufacture equipment for processing road construction materials.
Aside from the charges against Fisher, Schaff and Frank, Fisher Sand & Gravel itself was charged with conspiracy to commit tax fraud because company officials helped Fisher use company funds for personal expenses and prepared false tax returns to conceal the wrongdoing.
The company has agreed to pay $1.17 million in back taxes, interest and penalties to settle questions about its tax returns from 2001 to 2004, court filings say. The sum includes a $500,000 fine.
Fisher Sand & Gravel has approved a new company code of conduct, and agreed to cooperate in an Internal Revenue Service probe of its tax returns from 2005 to 2009, court documents said.